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2014 Gubernatorial Races: An Early Take- Part 3

Races in the Mountain States

This particular entry will not be that long. There are three gubernatorial races in this region with two seats held by Republicans (Wyoming and Idaho) and one by a Democrat (Colorado). Most of the entry will focus on Colorado as the other two states are reliably Republican territory with little chance of a Democratic upset.

In Idaho, incumbent Republican Butch Otter, who can run for another term, has not yet announced his candidacy, but has made it known that he will likely run for another term. Otter enjoys very high approval ratings that cuts across party lines. Because of so many Republican possibilities in so small a state, even if he decided against a run, there are enough names on the table to ensure a GOP victory here. It is no secret that Congressman Raul Labrador, a Tea Party favorite for his stance on immigration, would one day like the job and in any case, his current job is secure. Also, Lt. Governor Brad Little would likely be the heir apparent to Otter and should he run in a primary against Labrador if and when Otter calls it quits, he may have the inside track.

For the Democrats, the choices are few and the chances slim although they have recently talked up state senator Cherie Buck-Webb of Boise, the first black state legislator. And state representative Mat Erpelding was in the Idaho news for his 900-mile fundraising and rural community awareness publicity stunt. Finally Brian Cronin, the former Democratic leader of the minority caucus is possible, but not probable. He stepped down in 2012 citing the GOP stranglehold on politics in Idaho. In any case, the best chance for any Democrat would be in an open race (not this year) for any statewide race and even then, their chances are very slim.

If Idaho is ruby red, then Wyoming is even more so. Current Republican Governor Matt Mead has the honor of having the highest approval rating of any governor in the United States at 77% with only an 11% disapproval rating. Mead has yet to officially announce a run, but it is a foregone conclusion in Wyoming that he will run. The situation is so dire for Democrats in Wyoming that it is impossible to find any information on possible Democratic opponents. Regardless, the state superintendent of public instruction, Cindy Hill, has thrown her name in the hat on the GOP side. This move looks more like revenge against Mead’s signing of a bill that strips Hill’s current job of practical leadership of the state department of education and transfers that authority to a governor’s appointee. However, Hill is not particularly popular with state lawmakers who have accused her of stifling Mead’s educational reforms. There is also a chance that Taylor Haynes, who ran as an independent in 2010, may enter the GOP primary or make another independent run.

In Colorado, the situation for the Republican Party is somewhat different. Democratic incumbent John Hicklenhooper has declared his candidacy for reelection and enjoys high approval ratings from the fine residents of Colorado, standing at 61%. Given that scenario, it may just be in the GOP’s best interest to do what every good southern politician does: run twice- the first to get known, the second to get elected. That is, enter the race, but don’t expect a victory. Instead, build up your credentials for another fight in the future, be it a senatorial run against both Colorado incumbent Democratic senators or a gubernatorial run in 2018.

Some of the names mentioned as Senate hopefuls for the Republican Party in Colorado also appear on the list of names for next year’s gubernatorial contest. For the GOP, former congressman and 2010 Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo has declared his candidacy for governor in the Republican primary. In the 2010 race, Tancredo actually finished second to Hicklenhooper and managed to win a large swath of territory. The problem is that that territory was not heavily populated. Outside the population centers of Denver and its suburbs, Colorado Springs and others, the state remains staunchly conservative. No one denies Tancredo’s ultra-conservative credentials, especially in the area of immigration.

Leaving aside Tancredo for a second, the president of the Independence Institute, a Denver-based conservative think tank described the Republican Party in Colorado: “We don’t have a bench; we have a folding chair.” Some GOP hopefuls have run private polls of Colorado voters and found what all the other polls have discovered- John Hicklenhooper is popular and any campaign against him will be tough. There is no doubt that this fact is being considered first and foremost. Still, the GOP establishment in Colorado believes that with the right candidate, Hicklenhooper is beatable. They note that in his entire electoral career, Hicklenhooper has faced weak or token opposition. In 2010, the Republican process for finding a nominee was reduced to a circus with a weak, unknown emerging as the sacrificial lamb. That is why Tancredo finished second in the final polling.

Another consideration is that some conservative Colorado voters have an independent streak as in independence from the Republican Party. Thus, it is quite possible that a third party candidate, like one from the Libertarian Party, could pull 10% of the final vote from the Republican candidate and make the race “not that close” in a losing effort at best, or the cause for a loss at worst. As mentioned earler, some of the names mentioned for a senatorial run in 2014 also appear on the list of potential Republican candidates for governor in 2014. Two such names- Bob Beauprez (former congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee) and Bob Schaeffer (former congressman and senate nominee in 2004 and 2008) are perhaps the best known of the lot.

Beauprez noted that he enjoyed being the official Romney/Ryan cheerleader in the 2012 presidential campaign in Colorado. His travels across the state kept his profile high. Schaeffer, for his part, has expressed interest in the race also. However, there are competing forces in the Colorado GOP- the establishment versus new faces. Both Beauprez and Scaheffer represent the old guard, the establishment. Leading the new guard are possibilities like state representative Cheri Gerou, former state representative Victor Mitchell, state senator Ellen Roberts and former Navy pilot Lang Sias. A gubernatorial run in 2014 would raise their name recognition for future runs. A decent showing in a general election would go even further, assuming they get beyond Tancredo in the primary. There is also a third tier of candidates somewhere between the other two camps- current/former state officials looking to move up the political food chain. They include state senator Greg Brophy, secretary of state Scott Gessler, state treasurer Walker Stapleton (also mentioned in the 2014 senate race as a hopeful), and state attorney general John Suthers. If nothing else, they indicate that they can win statewide races in Colorado.

Whatever the outcome, one can expect someone to step forward at some point and challenge Tom Tancredo from the center in the GOP primary. To a certain degree, Tancredo is a somewhat toxic choice to carry the GOP banner in Colorado. He will likely play very well in the same areas he did in 2010, but that is not a recipe for electoral success in a general election. In a race where the final outcome is likely obvious, it would behoove the Colorado GOP to field someone not so much to win (if they do pull an upset- great!) but to position themselves for the future. A close race keeping Hicklenhooper under 55% of the vote would be considered a small victory.

Next: The Midwest area- Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Dakota

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