UPDATE: Republican strategist Dick Wadhams weighed in on the notion that these candidates have been untested.
“I certainly agree that Romanoff and Hickenlooper have had a charmed political existence but Udall is a little different since he did have tough elections for the State House and U.S. Congress. And, your observation about the 2008 campaign is correct, Udall was bailed out by the Obama phenomenon, the collapse of Wall Street, and the Bush hangover. Schaffer actually had a consistent lead from mid-summer when gas prices spiked through the national conventions until the Wall Street debacle in late September.”
Untested. That will certainly be the theme for three of the biggest 2014 elections in Colorado. But, surprisingly, this applies to the Democrats’ candidates. Between Senator Mark Udall, Governor John Hickenlooper and professional politician Andrew Romanoff, none have faced a campaign like they will this year. All three have specialized in winning deep blue areas of Colorado (Boulder and Denver), yet, through fortune and timing, none have been tested in truly competitive races.
Despite being the Western version of a Kennedy, Udall almost twice lost Boulder-centric elections to Republicans. In his 1996 bid for the State House, Udall received just 50.49% of the vote, and, in 1998 in his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in CD2, he received just 49.88% of the vote. Udall’s only state-wide election, when he was first elected in 2008, was in a notoriously toxic year for Republicans. Eight years of Bush fatigue, an flailing economy, and McCain as a weak top-lined candidate put the 2008 election so far out of Republican hands in 2008, Lincoln himself wasn’t going to beat Udall.
The story for Hickenlooper isn’t much better. Being Mayor of Denver is not a good stepping stone to the governorship. In fact, no other Denver Mayor has ever gone on to be elected to be the Governor of Colorado for the first time (the first Governor of Colorado, John Long Routt, took a demotion to Mayor after two terms, before coming back to be Colorado’s 5th Governor). Hickenlooper, himself, lucked out in 2010 when Colorado GOP self-destructed into running Dan Maes.
Finally, Romanoff, the apple of reviled U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s eye, has never won an election outside the deep-blue of Denver, and now he expects to compete in the purple-est of purples? If we learned anything from 2010, it was that after eight years representing the heart of Denver, even other Democrats around the state thought Romanoff was too extreme for them, causing him to lose to a political novice like Michael Bennett in the primary.
Much has been made about Republicans not having strong candidates in Colorado, but Democrats would be fools to mistake incumbency (and in Romanoff’s case, being a professional politician) for battle-tested campaigners. For Udall and Hickenlooper, who were handed their seats, it will be interesting to see how they react to the first few punches that land in these slugfests of campaigns.