Ready or not, another big election year is upon us — even if some of us feel like stealing the title from the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Let’s dedicate this mid-January column to the dozen big questions that will do much to shape and define this year. That’s it.
- What is the condition of the state and the country this fall? Is COVID-19 still among us in an all-consuming, behavior-shaping way? Is inflation still high or has it eased back to something closer to the normal range? Is the economy running? Are the grocery store shelves full again? Is President Biden able to stabilize his political ship?
- All of this will dictate much of the political context. Is 2022 becoming a rather typical off-year election with the ruling party (in this case, the Democrats) suffering losses but avoiding annihilation? Or does it become a tsunami of historic proportions (similar to Clinton’s first lean year in 1994 and Obama’s in 2010)?
- Bring it home, can the Republican Party of Colorado pull itself together? Can he avoid the turf war that has led to so many missed opportunities? Can he bridge the gap between the remaining moderates and the hardline Trump-ian base? Will he nominate candidates with an appeal to unaffiliated suburban voters? In short, can he manage after so many cycles of failure?
- In a state that has never warmed to Trump, what will be the Trump effect with him still very much on the stage but not on the ballot? My assessment is that Colorado is currently a state with a six to eight point Democratic lean. However, Trump brings that number closer to the 14 points he lost by in 2020. If this turns into a significant GOP wave, half a dozen points could be clawed back. But not in double digits.
- Can good fortune stay with Michael Bennet? During the difficult year of 2010, he attracted the least viable Republican challenger. Then six years later, the Republicans gave their nomination to an underequipped, underfunded candidate who never found his political legs (even though Darryl Glenn did a mean exercise video). Do Republicans find a candidate this time to really sweat Bennet, regardless of national prognosticators who don’t view the seat as vulnerable?
- Could the blue Colorado send a congressional delegation of five Republicans and only three Democrats to Washington? The possibility is there. Each side starts with three highly secure seats (Democrats DeGette, Neguse and Crow; Republicans Boebert, Buck and Lamborn). The brand new 8th Congressional District is as competitive as it gets. And the 7th District from which Ed Perlmutter is retiring, while having a slight Democratic leaning, could be up for grabs in a wave year and without an incumbent.
- Can Heidi Ganahl find her place and become a formidable opponent of Governor Jared Polis? On paper, Ganahl ticks a lot of boxes and looks like a dream candidate. But elections are not won on paper, or even with expensive consultants. They are won with instincts, tireless energy and bold moves. Does Ganahl have that in her? The first signs do not bode well.
- What amount of check will Polis be required to write? Four years ago, Polis spent around $25 million of his personal fortune to win his prize. Granted, most of that sum was spent in the primary defeating several capable opponents. How far will he have to dip into the wallet this time? We often forget the real advantage of self-financing. It’s not just about money, but all the time he has for other political ventures. Some candidates spend 70% of their waking hours fundraising while it takes less than a minute for Polis to write a seven- or eight-figure check himself.
- Does Phil Weiser get a free pass? Republicans have strong contenders for state treasurer and secretary of state. But no credible Republican has come forward to confront the attorney general. Even though Weiser is far more capable than his two Democratic peers, it would be a mistake for Republicans to give up that chance given that these three down races often follow each other closely and serve as a proxy for the broader perspectives of each. left.
- Does redistricting significantly change the legislative perspective? The decennial redistricting of neighborhood lines has blurred the configuration of the land. Some districts now contain two incumbents who must duel each other. Other districts have no incumbent. The Democratic majority in the State House seems unassailable. But their majority in the state Senate is much closer to the margins and possibly in play. A corollary question is whether Democratic lawmakers this election year will water down their ambitiously progressive wish list.
- Who is making the big mistake? It is an intriguing and unpredictable element of every election year. In Virginia, we just saw Democratic candidate and former governor Terry McAuliffe stumble upon that parents have no role in the content of their child’s education. It turned out to be a self-inflicted coup Grace. Which Colorado candidate is about to take a big bite out of his own foot?
- What is the problem of the sleeper who is not yet on the radar? Returning again to the Virginia competition, few anticipated ten months in advance that the educational role and the rights of parents would become a central point. Such an issue is virtually guaranteed to emerge from politics there to have a major impact come November. What turns out to be this unforeseen topic and which side will benefit from it?
These are my dozen key questions and variables. You will notice what is missing. There’s no mention of a slick ad here or a sleazy sender there. These political tactics receive a lot of attention at the time but are far less defining than the overall landscape and broad brushstrokes.
It should be an interesting ride. Get on board.
Eric Sondermann is a freelance political commentator based in Colorado. He writes regularly for ColoradoPolitics and The Gazette newspapers. Join it at [email protected]; follow him on @EricSondermann