JONATHAN COHN OCTOBER 17, 2010
Colorado's election keeps defying expectations. At first, it seemed that Republicans would make a clean sweep: In a rightward-leaning year, the state has an open gubernatorial seat, an appointed Democratic senator who barely survived a primary challenge, and three vulnerable Democratic House seats all in play. Since Colorado was the classic Democratic surge state in 2006 and 2008, it would take relatively little in the way of a rightward swing to return it to deep-purple status.
Then, Democrats seemed to catch a break in the August 10 primaries, when a lightly regarded and financially troubled Tea Party candidate, Dan Maes, won the gubernatorial nomination over ethically challenged frontrunner Scott McInnis; and another Tea Party favorite, District Attorney Ken Buck, won the Senate primary over early frontrunner Jane Norton. Maes was quickly beset with demands from Republican leaders that he withdraw from the race to allow the party to choose a more seemly nominee—and then the nation’s preeminent immigrant-basher, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, jumped into the race on the ticket of the far-right Constitution Party, apparently guaranteeing the Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a victory.
Now, the playing field seems to be tilting again. With Maes reeling from yet another revelation of his spotty personal finances (a personal bankruptcy in 1989), a new Rasmussen poll has Tancredo zooming up to within four points of Hickenlooper as Maes’s support collapses. At the same time, Rasmussen shows Senator Michael Bennet actually gaining ground against Buck, who’s led most polls the last few weeks, creating a virtual dead heat.
Coloradans—and Americans generally—got a fresh opportunity to compare the two Senate candidates today on "Meet the Press." There were no real fireworks; host David Gregory spent a good chunk of the “debate” asking the candidates to respond to disparaging comments made about both in a Denver Post editorial (which ultimately endorsed Bennet). Predictably, Bennet spent much of his time on the show denying that he’s a stooge of the Obama administration, while Buck sought to appear as not-crazy as possible, half-conceding Gregory’s assertion that he’s moving to the center during the general election. Still, the most jarring moment was Buck’s blunt agreement with the proposition that being gay is a “choice”: He compared the “influence” of biology on sexual orientation to the predisposition to alcoholism. This is pretty standard stuff in right-wing circles, but isn’t the best positioning in Colorado, at least outside of Colorado Springs.
It’s anybody’s guess what will happen on November 2—or more accurately, what result will be announced that day since most Coloradans vote by mail. With Rasmussen ranking the Senate race as too close to call, it would be unwise to write off Bennet, who’s been battling a vast number of attacks from out-of-state groups including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. But it's much harder to imagine that Colorado would elect Tom Tancredo as governor; his main concern, it appears, is to wage war on Denver for being an immigrant “sanctuary city.” Tancredo's election would make the state not only a national laughingstock, but a deadly serious target of boycotts and other tangible forms of opprobrium. Indeed, the most concrete effect of Ol' Tanc's candidacy may have been to help Ken Buck, indirectly, in his effort to look less scary during the run-up to Halloween.