No Colorado Republican has been elected to the U.S. Senate or Governor since 2002, when Sen. Wayne Allard and Gov. Bill Owens, respectively, won their bids for a second term. The GOP has struggled in Colorado as a whole since losing control of the state legislature in 2004, but they have been particularly inept when it comes to competing for the state’s top elected offices. Will the Republicans ever find their way Back to the Future?
Part of the Republican struggle has been an inability to find a center in a state that has increasingly moved to the left on social issues – a battle that has become more problematic since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009. When Pete Coors defeated the more conservative Bob Schaffer for the Republican nomination to the Senate in 2004 (where he eventually lost to Democrat Ken Salazar), it marked the last time that the more moderate GOP candidate made it through to a general election for Governor or Senate. Things got so bad in 2010 – the last time Colorado had a race for either top spot – that some guy named Dan Maes ended up with the Republican nomination and former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo ran as the candidate of the American Constitution Party.
As we begin the Republican Party’s 14th year in the abyss, any lessons learned from more than a decade of futility have largely been ignored. The last public poll of 2013 showed, incredibly, that the leading GOP contenders for Senate and Governor were a pair of retreads: Tancredo for Governor and failed 2010 Senate candidate Ken Buck for U.S. Senate. In a hypothetical matchup, polls showed also that a “generic Republican” candidate was leading both incumbent Democrats Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, respectively. Unfortunately for the GOP, there is no such person named “Generic Republican,” because the actual human beings leading their Party’s hopes in 2014 have little chance of knocking off Hick or Udall.
Republicans will never find their way Back to the Future when their “future” looks remarkably similar to their past. Colorado has changed markedly in the last decade-plus, and Democrats have made adjustments along the way. Republicans, meanwhile, seem to always respond to electoral failures by crying that they need only to return to “conservative values” to win back Colorado voters. Rinse, repeat.
With party caucuses right around the corner and the earlier primary election in June, it may be hard for Republicans other than Tancredo and Buck to shake free and capture the GOP nominations. But even if Tancredo/Buck were to falter, it is more likely than not that their “replacement” would be even more conservative – meaning the next generation of Republicans won’t be looking any more to the future than their predecessors.