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Election 2010: Was anyone really surprised?

Aaron Harber //November 11, 2010//

Election 2010: Was anyone really surprised?

Aaron Harber //November 11, 2010//

When a former gubernatorial candidate wrote “Thanks for these amazingly accurate predictions,” I realized that, while many of my correct prognostications were helped by my being objective about the outcome of the 12 contests for which I predicted all 12 winners, a good number of the predictions were easy to make. Here was my analysis prior to Election Day.

U.S. SENATE. This was the toughest race to call because I had thought for some time Republican Ken Buck would win it thanks to the Republican wave but, after looking at the pounding he was taking for several campaign-ending comments, I predicted Democrat Michael Bennet would win by one point. He did. Buck definitely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and probably could have won by (a) responding faster to a series of outrageous claims against him and (b) following Bennet’s strategy of minimizing contact with the press (although, personally, I don’t like that approach!).

GOVERNOR. It was easy to predict John Hickenlooper would win this race, and he did. Thanks to the mutual loathing between Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo, all Hickenlooper had to do was find a way to pass the time. Plus everyone liked the Mayor — including his two opponents. Initially, Tancredo was a spoiler who made it impossible for Maes to win. Then they switched positions with Tancredo eclipsing Maes but forced to focus on his conservative base as Maes became the spoiler. Tancredo never had enough time to collect sufficient centrist and unaffiliated votes to form a plurality. Hickenlooper could have campaigned from Erie (Pennsylvania) and he still would have won.

ATTORNEY GENERAL. Democrat Stan Garnett needed an extra $500,000 plus six more months to catch incumbent Republican John Suthers. Garnett could not get issues to resonate and the race was drowned out by bigger position and ballot issue contests. This was a contest where Garnett should have gotten some traction but Suthers did a good defensive job. The dominance of other campaigns made it difficult for either candidate to be heard.

SECRETARY OF STATE. Both candidates started glacially with incumbent Democrat Bernie Buescher caught up running his office and Republican challenger Scott Gessler consumed with his law practice. Gessler caught the Republican wave and focused on Big Picture issues but was accused of being partisan. Buescher focused on how well he was managing the office and his accomplishments while in office for just 18 months but that did not exactly catch fire with citizens. Not many voters paid attention to any of this.

TREASURER. Colorado hasn’t seen such a contest for this position as incumbent Democrat Cary Kennedy fiercely battled Republican challenger Walker Stapleton. While in most years, Kennedy’s name would have helped her, it probably didn’t this time. Known as a smart, capable, straight-shooter, Kennedy strayed from her focused-on-the-facts reputation by launching a last-minute attack using a DUI charge Stapleton had a decade ago and extrapolated this made him unfit for office. It altered voters’ positive impression of Kennedy as a not-your-typical-politician. Now she was just like everyone else and enough votes went to Stapleton — one of the nicest guys you could meet — for him to squeak by.

1ST C.D. The biggest surprise in the victory by Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette was her massive margin over impressive Republican challenger Dr. Michael Fallon. DeGette was partying as if it were 2006 or 2008 again. She transformed the Republican wave into a ripple in Denver.

2ND C.D. The numbers were similarly overwhelming for incumbent Democrat Jared Polis in his victory over Republican challenger Stephen Bailey. Without any financial support, Bailey ran a good campaign but knew Polis had the ability to bring out the big guns if he ever felt threatened. Polis never felt threatened and coasted to victory.

3RD C.D. Three-term incumbent John Salazar faced a tough challenge from Republican State Representative Scott Tipton. Both candidates had a lot of outside help but Tipton adroitly rode the Republican wave in what frequently has been a conservative district. Tipton stayed on message, campaigned ferociously, and knew he had the momentum. Salazar was an excellent fit for the District so his loss was a surprise to many.

4TH C.D. Similar to the 3rd C.D., Republican challenger and State Representative Cory Gardner ran a solid campaign against incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey to win the District. Gardner was seen by many as the ideal representative for the 4th and voters agreed. Markey ran a solid campaign but the Republican wave probably felt like a tsunami to her.

5TH C.D. Republican incumbent Doug Lamborn easily dispatched Democrat Kevin Bradley, who had less resources and visibility than any other Democratic challenger.

6TH C.D. Democratic nominee John Flerlage gamely tried to make a go of his race against incumbent Mike Coffman but it was futile given (1) the political configuration of the District, (2) Coffman’s long-term record of political success, (3) his good fit with the District, and (4) the Republican wave.

7TH C.D. Democratic incumbent Ed Perlmutter ran for his political life and saved it as Republican challenger and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier offered a tough challenge. Rather than parrying the seeming contradiction that Frazier’s charter school took the very stimulus funds Frazier had railed against (e.g., by saying, “So what? Once the funds were made available, we played by the rules and sought them…”), Frazier appeared to be a deer frozen in the headlights. It wasn’t the only factor though as Perlmutter consistently exploited every mistake Frazier made.

WILD CARD? An interesting possibility is the sponsors of Amendment 63 — an effort to contest President Obama’s health care legislation — may have unwittingly directed anger away from Democratic candidates in Colorado and served, instead, as a safety valve for those upset with the Administration’s health care policies. Could Michael Bennet owe his victory to the Independence Institute and John Caldara? Stranger things have happened.
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