Heading into the 2016 general election, Colorado could be the weirdest, least predictable swing state of all.

If things go as experts predict, Colorado and six other purple states will choose the president. Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire are up for grabs in the event the two major parties nominate viable candidates who don’t implode.

For the consultant class, Colorado represents a chaotic mess with no clear common agendas. In the past two years, the state has become home to more than 300,000 new residents. Newbies in just the past 12 months outnumber the population of Boulder. No one knows how they vote or what they want.

The migrants are disproportionately young professionals attracted by ski slopes, scenery, climate, microbrew and, yes, recreational pot. The bulk of their adult years lie ahead, meaning they probably care about investments in roads, mass transit, education, public safety and economic development.

Colorado remains technically purple, especially after Republicans defeated a Democratic senator in 2014 and replaced him with Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. A likable man with a perma-smile, Gardner was as close to perfect as candidates get. He had no primary opponent and no history of personal or professional scandals. Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and handlers blessed Republicans by running an abysmally odd campaign that focused almost entirely on abortion rights. Udall appeared exhausted.

For the Republican presidential nominee to win Colorado, he or she may need the draw of a second winning Republican senatorial nominee. It is not an impossible goal, but it won’t be easy.

Despite having every advantage, Gardner barely won in 2014. This time, Republicans have a crowded field seeking the nomination. The battle among potential nominees is destined to get ugly. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., won’t repeat the mistakes that took down Udall.

Colorado’s proposal for socialized, single-payer health care presents another complicating factor in the 2016 election. It has little chance of passing, but should motivate participation of special interest voters who might otherwise stay home. They won’t be Republicans.

Advocates of the socialized health care plan will call attention to Colorado’s broken Obamacare exchange — largely the work of a once-ranking Republican. It was dubbed “Amycare” after then-House Republican Majority Leader Amy Stephens pushed it through the Legislature. Regulators recently closed a major Amycare insurance provider, Colorado HealthOP. The failure left 83,000 Coloradans without insurance and state taxpayers holding the bag for $72 million in federal loans.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper enters 2016 with a state unemployment rate of 3.6 percent — 1.4 percent lower than the national average.

For Republicans, there are at least two important glimmers of hope. Pundits, polls and consultants indicate Bennet may be the most vulnerable Senate Democrat. His support for President Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal contradicted public sentiment. The Denver magazine 5280 observed ‘The senator can be so under the radar, in fact, that he verges on being anonymous and can move around Colorado mostly unnoticed.” He appears more loyal to Obama than the voters who elected him.

While the socialized health care measure may draw special-interest voters on the left, it should generate national opposition funds that would benefit the right.

To win the White House, either party may need Colorado’s electoral votes. One-third of the state’s registered voters are Democrats and another third are Republicans. As usual, that third who reside on neither side will determine which candidates and ballot measures prevail. Parties and politicians will entice them only with legitimate plans to enhance economic security, public safety, transportation and education. In politics, purple means nonpartisan passion for ideas that make sense.

Let the games begin, and may the best ideas and candidates win in 2016.

The Gazette


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