The first poll out since Governor Hickenlooper’s cowardly reprieve on the death penalty for convicted killer Nathan Dunlap shows Hick’s support collapsing and some seriously promising signs for potential Republican challengers.

From the highly-respected and non-partisan Quinnipiac poll:

Colorado voters say 69 – 24 percent that the death penalty should stay on the books and not be replaced by life in prison with no chance of parole, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. At the same time, Gov. John Hickenlooper finds himself running neck and neck with possible challengers in the 2014 governor’s race. 

Voters disapprove 67 – 27 percent of Gov. Hickenlooper’s decision to grant convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a reprieve, and 74 percent say the death penalty will be “very important” or “somewhat important” in their vote for governor next year, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

Check out the full poll here.

The support for the death penalty perfectly mirrors a poll in December by Republican firm The Tarrance Group, which found 68% support. The poll was reported on by The Colorado Observer, but mainstream press more or less ignored it.

What should really concern Hickenlooper’s political circle, however, is not the death penalty numbers but his own. The poll finds Hick virtually tied with both Tom Tancredo (42-41) and Scott Gessler (42-40). Senator Greg Brophy fared less well due to a very low name ID — 86% of respondents didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

The poll didn’t test a number of other names that have been floated, such as District Attorney George Brauchler or former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp.

Not only does the Quinnipiac poll spell trouble for Hickenlooper, but the “most liberal ever” legislature is widely panned by voters, with 49% disapproving to only 36% approving.

If we had to guess, we’d say the underwater figures for the legislature will only increase calls for Morse to resign rather than face recall and have to test the voters displeasure with the Capitol crowd.

It’s abundantly clear in this poll that Colorado Democrats misjudged the electorate, assuming Coloradans were far more supportive of its run to the left than they were in reality.

The political pendulum, it’s swinging back.

UPDATE: Tom Tancredo is the first gubernatorial challenger out with a react in a press release:

“I’m not surprised that support for John Hickenlooper is in free-fall,” said Tancredo. “From the death penalty and gun control to giving driver’s licenses and special tuition discounts to illegal immigrants, this governor has proven time and time again that he is completely out of touch with the people of Colorado. However I am encouraged by the results as much as Dunlap should be worried about them.”

“John Hickenlooper and his allies in the legislature have pursued a radical, left-wing agenda that has made our state less safe and less prosperous,” said Tancredo. “Colorado taxpayers can’t afford another four years of John Hickenlooper and one-party rule in the state capitol,” said Tancredo.

“This rubber-stamp governor signed off on every crazy proposal that this Democrat legislature sent to his desk this year,” concluded Tancredo. “Coloradans deserve an independent-minded governor who is willing to stand up to his own party, not rubber stamp the Democratic Party Platform.”