Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Will Hickenlooper Run for Senate?

John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to run for U.S. Senate, and it wouldn’t be as easy to win as the recent PPP poll, which claimed he’d start with more than 4 out of 10 of the state’s Democrats for him (44%).

What the poll mostly affirmed is that name identification is an advantage early in primaries, the race is wide open and substantial numbers of Democrats’ first goal is to find a winner. But, does that suggest Hickenlooper would find the race easy to enter?

  • As I have blogged, top Democratic senate candidates have collectively raised three times what Hickenlooper raised in his presidential race since January ($6 million to $2 million).
  • Consider the list, which of the top candidates will quit – probably none.
  • Hickenlooper’s constituency is older, white and moderate – an important group in the Democratic Party, but hardly dominant. (The Joe Biden constituency. In fact, Biden leads Colorado’s presidential primary with 22%; Hickenlooper was tied for 5th with 7%.)

Hickenlooper has stated he would not enter the primary. If he did, he would be the frontrunner and likely raise more money than in his presidential bid. But, it will be a fight. The poll did reinforce that Hickenlooper is not a serious presidential candidate as of now in Colorado and the Colorado Democratic Senate nomination is wide open.

Money Floods into Senate Race

Both small and large donations are flowing into Colorado Democrats’ winnable U.S. Senate race. Expect a lot more. Incumbent Senator Cory Gardner raised more than $2 million, but the Democratic field more than doubled that in total.

Gardner starts in a strong fundraising position with nearly $5 million in the bank, but Democrats are raising both large contributions, especially Mike Johnston and Dan Baer, and small contributions led by Andrew Romanoff. A recent poll (Keating) has Romanoff in the lead and Johnston third after rumored candidate and newly elected Secretary of State, Jena Griswold. An unreleased Public Policy Poll reported John Hickenlooper would get 44 percent, with Romanoff in a trailing second. The complete poll was not released and it is unclear who authorized the poll.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Cory Gardner and the 2020 Presidential Election

Sen. Cory Gardner speaks at the Western Conservative
 Summit, July 12, 2019 | Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Senator Cory Gardner has a major challenge managing the circumstance of his 2020 reelection. His close victory in 2014 was the product of a good Republican year (they took control of the Senate) and a well-executed campaign against what appeared a lethargic incumbent beset by interest groups determined to dominate his messaging. Gardner may get another break this year as a wide open Democratic primary may damage the eventual nominee, mirroring the national party nomination contest by the tendency of drifting too far to the left.

But, Gardner faces some challenges not present in 2014, namely Donald Trump. Trump lost Colorado to Hillary Clinton by 5 points, the Democrats swept the 2018 midterms in Colorado from top-of-the-ticket to local sheriffs mostly criticizing Trump, and the latest polls show Trump below his not very high national approval rating (43% nationally, 42% Colorado). Gardner spends a significant amount of political energy oscillating between supporting the Republican President, such as his endorsement of Trump’s re-election, and separating himself from Trump, most recently concerning tweets on “the squad.”

The difficult specific conditions of the 2020 election are:

  • Record turnout. The 2018 midterms produced a historic number of Democrat and Democratic-leaning unaffiliated voters. They will be back. Both parties will be highly motivated and fully mobilized. Expect record turnout (2.78 million in 2016, 2.52 million in 2018).
  • Party-line voting. Colorado was for years famous for ticket-splitters and swing voters. No more. Voters increasingly line up with their partisan affiliation (6th District: Mike Coffman – 43%, Trump 41%; Jason Crow 54%, Clinton 50%). Democrats have an advantage today in registration (49,000 more Democrats than Republicans, 307,000 more unaffiliated than Republicans). It’s unaffiliated voters that trended toward the Democrats by about 60 percent in 2018 according to polls.
  • Negative partisanship. It’s hard to appeal to moderates in either party as voters are more anti the other side than for their side. Negative partisanship – the new term for it – drives voting, not party loyalty. It’s being against what the other party stands for or its most prominent leader that is the primary motivator. Gardner’s, like Mike Coffman’s, effort to triangulate the Colorado electorate is a very difficult task today.

Hickenlooper and Bennet Make It, But it may be a Last Chance - KOA

In a drive-time KOA interview, Marty Lentz asked if John Hickenlooper, with only “one” percent in the polls and little money left in the bank, was running out of time.

Yes. Unless something changes dramatically, this is likely the end of Hickenlooper’s national run. And, his challenges are formidable. The 10-person debate nights will be packed with candidates struggling for their moment. As the June debate demonstrated, only a couple of stars emerged from the debates and they tended to be dominated by the early frontrunners: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Hickenlooper’s first night has Bernie Sanders and Warren, who will no doubt command attention, and Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke will be looking for their own breakouts. Hickenlooper will be standing near Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a new entrant who will get noticed just by being new.
John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet, who had a better June debate than Hickenlooper and is well liked by the pundit and commentary class (See George Wells’ endorsement), is in the first night’s show that will feature some version of a rematch between Biden and Harris as Cory Booker and Julián Castro fight for a notice. Bennet is on the far left edge of the stage, opposite Mayor Bill de Blasio – it might be a good firing position.

April Zesbaugh asked if Colorado’s candidates being on separate nights was an advantage.

I think so. They are both moderates, but with very separate messages, and some independent space is no doubt welcome by both. Hickenlooper especially didn’t appreciate being described as coming in second to Bennet last time.

Possibly the biggest challenge for both candidates is that one powerful storyline framing this debate is who quits. Pundits and pols are looking for who leaves and how soon. Most believe there should be no more than ten for the September debate and, as of now, only the top six in the polls qualify. When will Tim Ryan, John Delaney and possibly Hickenlooper get out will be the question asked repeatedly.

Cory Garner and the BLM

In a major coup, Senator Cory Gardner got the federal government to move one of its agencies to the West. The City of Grand Junction will now become the home of the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM manages huge acreage of federal land, mostly in the West, including Colorado. About a third of Colorado’s land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

For Gardner, it demonstrates one of a strong argument for his re-election – an incumbent in the party of the president. Gardner also has the advantage of being in the majority party. Senator Bennet pitched in to support the BLM move, but, of course, was a voice in the political wilderness.

Sen. Cory Gardner | Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Running on Fumes

John Hickenlooper speaks at the Democratic primary debate,
Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019 | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
John Hickenlooper is out of money. The latest FEC reports place Hickenlooper 20th out of 23 candidates listed. Michael Bennet, who has only been in the race three months, managed to rank 10th. Of course, his $3.5 million total was helped by $700,000 from his Senate account.

But, Hickenlooper, whose total raised is $3.2 million, only collected $1.2 million in the latest quarter, with barely $500,000 in the bank. He’s “one” percent in the polls with a debate in twelve days. Along with money, Hickenlooper is running out of time.

The Buzz: Dashboard Before July Debates
Politico: The Money

KOA Interview: Hickenlooper’s Final Debate?

In a Tuesday morning interview with April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz, the July Democratic debate was described as Hickenlooper’s likely last chance to keep his presidential campaign alive.

Recognizing his dire circumstance, Hickenlooper shook up his staff after the last debate when he emerged with weak reviews and still at “one” percent or less in follow-up polls. The next round of debates, starting in September, have a “two” percent polling threshold, which Hickenlooper and most of his 12 fellow “one” percent candidates wouldn’t hit.

One, Eric Swalwell, a little known California congressman who tried to emerge at the last debate taking on Joe Biden as the “too old generation,” quit. Calls are growing for more “one” percent candidates to exit the stage. Hickenlooper is repeatedly being asked to shift to the Colorado Senate race against vulnerable Republican incumbent, Cory Gardner.

In recent interviews, Hickenlooper is beginning to recognize the difficulty of his position.

  • Not a staff issue. He corrected the impression his lack of momentum was staff related. In fact, the problem is that neither Hickenlooper’s quirky personality nor his moderate, progressive message has found a constituency in the Democratic electorate in Iowa or nationally. And, as opposed to Michael Bennet, he’s been campaigning for more than nine months, hard at it since March.
  • It’s not the lack of exposure. He’s had numerous interviews on cable and network news shows, including Morning Joe, the Sunday public affairs panels and a CNN town hall.
  • It’s not money. At least initially, his announcement was accompanied by a $2 million haul, but it has run dry as Hickenlooper has failed to spark much interest from his media exposure or appearances.
  • Next debate will be tough. Hickenlooper has said he’s not a great debater. It may not matter at the July event. There will be an air of desperation on the stage as at least half the candidates realize time is running out.

Hickenlooper is being promoted as a top senate candidate, but he’s made it very clear he’s not interested. Beyond that, the politics of the race is well underway, with a host of candidates already raising more than $3 million. A messy primary is not a political legacy Hickenlooper wants to leave.

Interestingly, as some of the first round of candidates leaves the field, there are more lining up to enter the race. Billionaire Tom Steyer, claiming he will spend $100 million, has just announced, and Stacey Abrams, former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, continues to be encouraged to enter the race.

Polling: Presidential Race in the West – Evenly Divided

As President Trump begins his re-election campaign, the latest state-by-state Morning Consult poll of presidential approval shows 12 western states that broke fifty-fifty between Trump and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race are still evenly divided above and below his national approval rate of 43 percent.

Trump’s approval has been in a narrow range. It declined from a low 46 percent in the polling averages at his inauguration, with no honeymoon, to settling in at the upper 30s and low 40s his entire first two years in office. Gallup reported on June 30, 2019 that his approval was 41 percent, after starting the year at 37 percent, reflecting the December market crash and January shutdown, moving to a high of 47 percent in early May.

The six western states won by Trump were: Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Utah and Wyoming (in continental U.S. and Texas). Clinton won six: California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. The same six states each are divided today above and below the 43 percent national average.

Arizona and Nevada clearly appear to be battlegrounds due to latest polling and closeness of the 2016 race (3% and 2%, respectively). But, because of Trump’s high negative, Texas appears vulnerable and Utah, which in 2016 voted strongly for a conservative third-party candidate. Just examining approval ratings, makes Colorado a potential Republican target, but the 2018 election and his high disapproval (54%) makes the state look difficult for a Trump revival.

Trump Riding on Economy, But Lagging on Foreign Policy and Personality

Donald Trump hit an approval high in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll of 44 percent (47% among registered voters). Also, his RealClearPolitics average has tied his previous two-year high of 45 percent, set in early May 2019.

Gary Langer, ABC News’ and Washington Post’s well-known pollster, believes the economy is mainly responsible for Trump’s move up. More than half of Americans approve of his job performance with the economy (51%). However, it is in foreign policy that he lags, with only a 40 percent job approval. Unfortunately for Trump, it’s foreign policy where he enjoys the drama and entertainment value and frequently raises his profile, along with expectations from North Korea, China and Iran.

The poll also records Trump’s other liability holding back his approval rating and possibly damaging re-election is his personality. Two-thirds (65%) of Americans say that Trump “has acted in a way that’s unpresidential since taking office,” a viewpoint people have held about Trump during his entire presidency (70% in mid-2017 and early 2018).

Langer makes the point that, along with an approval rating in a very tight range (36% to 44% in the ABC News/Washington post surveys during his entire 900 days in office), it has been extraordinary low. His two and one-half year average is 39 percent, well below Gerald Ford (47% approval), Bill Clinton (51%) and Jimmy Carter (51%), two of whom lost re-election.

Hickenlooper and Bennet Get One More Debate

As I wrote on Friday, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet got moments in the second night of the first Democratic debates, but both were overshadowed by the big four – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg – especially the takedown of Biden by Harris.

Some commentary confirms that Colorado’s two candidates performed satisfactory, but not enough to move the polls or the narrative. They get one more debate chance at the end of July, but are unlikely to enter the room in much better position than their less than one percent position as of Thursday night. The good news for both Bennet and Hickenlooper is that the first round of debates showed the field can be shook up by a big performance. It reinforced that it’s early and frontrunners are vulnerable and second and third tiers can stand out.

Democratic primary debate, June 27, 2019 | Mike Segar/Reuters

Most of the early responses and the pundit class rate the two night winners:


  • Warren
  • Harris
  • Castro
  • Booker
  • Klobuchar
  • Gabbard
  • de Blasio

Twitter (Ranked in over their pre-debate favorability)

With the exception of Joe Biden, over-favorability went up, including for Hickenlooper and Bennet, but they are only in the 20 percent range (leaders were 40% and above). FiveThirtyEight also rated increase in Twitter followers, and the big winners were Harris and Julián Castro (more than 50,000), Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren more than 30,000. The two fringe candidates – Marianne Williamson (31,000) and Andrew Yang (39,000) – have their online fans.

Hickenlooper and Bennet were at the dead bottom of the list of twenty, with about 1,000 new followers each.

Word Count

Hickenlooper did his pragmatic, contrast with Sanders, but never got into much of an exchange with others or interrupted. He had one of the lowest speaking times (5 minutes) and word counts (951 words). Although length is not indicative of how one did. Bill de Blasio spoke less than Hickenlooper (881), but was judged on having made an impression, and Joe Biden spoke the most (2,475), but was mostly on the defense.

Bennet managed to interject often and had a word count (1,402 words, 8 minutes) nearly equal to Castro (1,588), who was considered a breakout star the first night. Bennet was not.

Time Out

Kirsten Gillibrand may replace de Blasio as the least liked New Yorker for Democrats. She should quit before her senate career is damaged.

Because of the DNC’s internet rules, it may be hard to get rid of Yang and Williamson. They appeared even more fringe after their performances. And Tim Ryan, Eric Swalwell, John Delaney and Jay Inslee looked very marginal. Finally, it’s hard to imagine a recovery for Beto O’Rourke.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sanders, Hickenlooper and Socialism

John Hickenlooper’s first question asked about the socialism criticism he’s become known for. Both he and Michael Bennet argued for pragmatism dealing with major policy proposals, such as health care; for example, public options versus single-payer, most strongly promoted by Bernie Sanders.

They and their colleagues are right to prioritize health care as an issue. There is a strong Democratic consensus on the top issues.

Republicans have more certainty in their ranks on the terms “capitalism” and “socialism.” But, Democrats are divided.

Republicans are about 6-to-1 hostile to the term “socialism,” whereas Democrats are 2-to-1 positive.

Mitch McConnell

Chuck Todd hit a hot button in the first debate by his Mitch McConnell question. Although no Democratic candidate offered much of an answer on how as president they would handle his obstructionism, Democrats in important senate swing states suggested attacking him and his image will move voters to vote Democratic in senate races. In a poll, they were motivated more by attacks on “Mitch McConnell” than on “Donald Trump” or the “Republican Party in Congress” (Global Group).

Presidential hopefuls take to the stage in the Democratic
primary debate, June 27, 2019 | Mike Segar/Reuters

Democratic Party Won the First Debate

Democrats were well served by the first debate. It was civil, no nicknames, no insults, mostly policy and little mention of Trump. It was a useful contrast for Democrats to the first Republican debate four years ago (Megyn Kelly Against free-for-all). He was almost never mentioned except in a well-received reference to him being the country’s main national security threat. There was also no Clinton. Four years ago, she dominated the nomination process. Wednesday night, she was never mentioned.

American democracy needs a reset, and the first debate gave it a start.

Socialism on Defense

Elizabeth Warren, from her center position and receiving the first question, set the agenda on the economy and dominated the progressive wing, but not without pushback. Amy Klobuchar, in particular, but not alone, took on Warren’s single-payer/government run health care.

The debate tone made clear the progressive agenda in its most extreme form will not go unchallenged. Warren and Bernie Sanders can expect a running battle from the middle of the party.

Time to Thin the Herd Approaches

For a few on the stage, they will make only one more debate. Although Congresspersons Tim Ryan and John Delaney got in a few appreciated comments about how the party has left the working class behind, it’s hard to see either of them finding sufficient support for improved polling and financing. Several one-percenters will not make the third debate when two-percent becomes the threshold.

Debates Can Make and Break

As the Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke exchange demonstrated, a brief exchange can provide a launch for a candidate and it can cause major damage. Castro had been mostly ignored and needed something to highlight his assets in the Democratic base; that is, Hispanic heritage and immigration position. He got his chance taking on O’Rourke in a fiery exchange on immigration. For O’Rourke, it just reinforced the narrative that his campaign was stalled and that down was his mostly likely direction in the polls.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, Castro’s position, which amounts to open borders, was immediately identified by a Trump tweet as a highly controversial and a vulnerable position.

Presidential hopefuls take to the stage in the first Democratic
primary debate, June 26, 2019 | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Image

Time is Short

In a debate format for 10 participants, time is short – generally 5 to 14 minutes, in about 10 to 14 exchanges. Although authenticity (i.e., storytelling) and passion are praised, sound bites are expected and endless interruptions distracting.

All in all, a good launch for the Democrats.

KOA Interview: Debate Prospects for Hickenlooper and Bennet

Thursday morning after the Democratic first debate, April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz discussed the strategies and prospects for Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.

My analysis:

The good news for candidates on the edge of the stage, like Hickenlooper and Bennet, is that in the Wednesday night first debate, several showed well. Amy Klobuchar (1%) was strong as the Midwestern moderate; Julián Castro (1%) had a breakout moment with his taking on of Beto O’Rourke on immigration; and Mayor Bill de Blasio (1%), a new candidate in the field, effectively interrupted and made the point it may take a little “New York” swagger to take on Donald Trump.

Hickenlooper would like to talk about his Colorado success on health care, reproductive rights and gun control, but his only break-out moment so far was taking on socialism in front of California Democrats. He’s likely to have an opportunity with Bernie Sanders on the stage to declare his view that extreme positions will not pass and will be highly vulnerable to Republican attack.

Bennet has argued for months and his new book present the view Washington is dysfunctional and must be fixed. Describing effectively how he would pass the key parts of the Democratic agenda in spite of a Republican controlled senate would be welcomed by Democrats.

Does position count? The center of the stage helped Elizabeth Warren Wednesday. Will Hickenlooper, being between two of the least probable candidates – spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, venture capitalist – help or hurt him? Distract or enhance? It’s one of the myriad of unpredictable factors in a ten-person debate.

John Hickenlooper (L) and Michael Bennet at the Democratic Debate,
June 27, 2019 | Credit: Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS/Getty Images and VOA