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.

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