After a few days of reflection, here is our list of losers from the 2012 election cycle in Colorado. Find our list of winners here.
1. Mitt Romney and Colorado Advisors
Mitt Romney’s campaign efforts in Colorado never made much sense to us. Romney spent far too long early in the campaign visiting traditionally beet-red, but more importantly under-populated areas of the state, allowing the battle for suburban votes to shift toward President Barack Obama. Some 85% of Colorado voters live along the Front Range between Ft. Collins and Pueblo, which we would think is fairly common knowledge at this point. At one point at the end of the summer, Romney had gone more than 30 days between visits to our state.
Later, Romney made a disastrous mistake by declaring himself opposed to the wind power production tax credit, which is tied to thousands of manufacturing jobs in Colorado–even though almost all Republicans in the state supported it. By the time Romney began to “Etch-a-Sketch” himself into a moderate candidate for the general election, he had already radicalized himself in the eyes of too many Colorado voters. Once that was done, his attempts to walk back from the hard-right positions he took in the primary looked disingenuous and fed distrust.
But above all, Republican supporters of Romney in Colorado disastrously internalized their own spin, and convinced themselves that polls showing Obama steadily regaining, then holding his lead in Colorado from mid-October onward were “skewed.” This false sense of security, combined with the Obama campaign’s world-beating field campaign, yanked the rug out from under Romney’s feet in a state that consistently ranked as one of the most competitive.
2. Frank McNulty
Outgoing Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty will go down in history as one of the most divisive, Machiavellian, and ultimately self-destructive leaders in the history of the state. Taking a one-seat majority in 2010 by the barest of electoral margins, McNulty acted as if this was a mandate for the “Tea Party.” Abusing and manipulating legislative rules to an extent nobody we know can remember a match for, McNulty ruthlessly carried out a partisan, obstructionist game plan in the House against the Democratic Senate and Governor’s office.
But McNulty’s arrogance was his own undoing. McNulty lost control of the legislative reapportionment process through his own bad faith, resulting in maps that dramatically reduced the number of “safe” seats for either party. Then McNulty turned the 2012 legislative session into a nationwide controversy when he shut down debate just before civil unions legislation would have passed his chamber with bipartisan support.
As a result, outside money poured into key legislative races, and Democrats used the story of the shutdown of the legislature against Republican House candidates all over the state. Today, not even a candidate for GOP House minority leadership, the implosion of Frank McNulty’s political career is pretty much complete.
3. Angry, Knee-Jerk Politics
Republicans were given yet another bruising lesson in the folly of embracing extreme and controversial stands on wedge issues in a moderate swing state. One of the best examples of this was the response by Republicans in the Colorado State Senate to the battle over birth control coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). First, Sen. Greg Brophy willingly inserted himself into that debate by crudely insulting Sandra Fluke in defense of radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh. Later, Senate Republicans held a rally on the steps of the Capitol likening birth control coverage to Nazis, genocide, and even King Henry VIII.
Despite problems with the mainstream media failing to cover these antics, advocacy groups and others, working with the Obama campaign with essentially the same message, were able to demonstrate a “War on Women” continuum between the national issue of women’s reproductive health and local Republican politicians. This amplified and localized the damage done via national stories like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock–and hurt the GOP brand all the way up and down the ticket.
4. Joe Coors, Jr.
Colorado Pols broke the news last December that Joe Coors, Jr. was going to challenge Democrat Ed Perlmutter in CD-7, and we were as confused then as we are now. Why would an independently wealthy guy enjoying retirement want to run for a job where, if successful, he would be a 70-year-old freshman Congressman? It’s one thing to run for the U.S. Senate, as brother Pete Coors did in 2004, because the prize is so much bigger and you don’t have to run for re-election every two years. It’s another thing entirely to run for the House against an incumbent who absolutely destroyed his Republican challenger in 2010 in what was then a Republican wave.
Even die-hard Republicans admitted that Coors didn’t have much of a chance against Perlmutter, but that didn’t stop him from spending millions of dollars of his own money just to get punched in the face by past skeletons. The money, perhaps, isn’t as important to Coors. But the damage to his reputation is permanent. This time last year, how many friends and neighbors knew that Joe had once predicted that the world would end in 2000? How many knew that he listed “Biblical Prophecy” as a hobby on his resume? How many knew that he had lost tens of millions of dollars because he fell for a scam that promised a 75% return on investment each week? There were a lot of Colorado candidates who came out on the losing end on Election Day, but few, if any, lost more than Joe Coors, Jr.
5. Joe Miklosi
Democrats celebrated in the wake of the congressional redistricting process last year, after major changes to congressional maps created at least one major new opportunity for Democrats, while leaving other districts as prime competitive seats up for grabs by good candidates in either party. The new lines for CD-6 were so competitive on paper that both politicos and the press named it as one of the most likely districts to change hands in the country.
But then the actual campaigning began.
State Rep. Joe Miklosi did a good job of coalescing Democrats early and preventing a serious primary challenge, but it quickly became clear that Miklosi was not prepared for a Congressional campaign. His first fundraising numbers were anemic, which is usually a flashing-red light warning; if you can’t put up good numbers with all of the low-hanging fruit in your rolodex, that’s a pretty good indicator of things to come. Fellow Democrats Brandon Shaffer and Sal Pace faced registration numbers far less favorable than CD-6, yet both consistently raised serious money. At the same time, incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman was pulling in big bucks every quarter and putting tremendous distance between himself and Miklosi.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did its best to try to prop up Miklosi, and Coffman did everything he could to give his seat away. Coffman’s now-infamous “not an American” insult against Obama shook even many of his Republican supporters, and left them questioning whether he could hold on in a race to the center. As it turned out, he didn’t need to worry.
It was telling that Miklosi kept the same slogan (“Not Your Average Joe!”) for his CD-6 race that he had used successfully to win a Democratic primary in his State House seat four years earlier. Miklosi and his top staffers made odd errors and took a long time trying to find a message; in the first story about his campaign in the Denver Post, Miklosi named in-state tuition for illegal immigrants as a top priority, which is an odd thing to try to push in your first story as a likely candidate. By the end of this summer, he seemed to have settled on calling out Coffman for “Rush Limbaugh-style politics,” which really only makes sense to a partisan audience.
But Miklosi’s biggest error was perhaps the most inexcusable. Miklosi couldn’t win this race first and foremost because voters didn’t know who he was…and the campaign knew that. Nevertheless, Miklosi’s campaign spent 90% of its time attacking Coffman and did very little to increase his name ID, even though polling and common sense (this was essentially a new district, with voters unfamiliar with either candidate) dictated otherwise.
While fellow Democrats Shaffer and Pace were also unable to knock out a Republican incumbent, Miklosi’s loss was different. This was a race that a Democrat should have won in 2012.
6. Mike Coffman
Sure, Coffman won re-election despite running in a district that did not favor his right-wing conservatism, but he lost plenty along the way. With so many Republican losses in recent years, Coffman was the most experienced and well-known GOP elected official in Colorado. But he may have gone as far as he can go politically because of this election cycle.
Coffman hasn’t been shy about wanting to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 against incumbent Democrat Mark Udall, but he may have lost that opportunity with so many self-inflicted wounds in the last 18 months. Whether it was jumping on as the Colorado Chair for the Presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (oops), or sad attempts to dodge a local TV reporter after his claim that President Obama is “not an American” (d’oh), Coffman showed Republican big-wigs and donors that he is too risky of a candidate to support for higher office anytime soon. Coffman was hoping he could ride to an easy re-election in 2012 and take that momentum into a clear GOP nomination as the challenger to Udall. Now? Coffman probably runs for re-election instead, and there’s a very real chance that he’ll lose.
7. Republican donors
A large investment by Republicans into the Colorado House and Senate GOP independent efforts produced perhaps the smallest return on investment since 2004, failing to hold the House as well as failing to increase their Senate delegation. This is important particularly as long-term GOP strategy in the Senate depended on picking up a few seats this year, and more in 2014. Today they’re well behind the pace.
As was the case in 2010, a significant amount of the problem can be traced to a failure by Republicans to properly vet their candidates. We were dumbfounded by the size of some of the skeletons that GOP candidates such as John Enstrom and Brian Watson had in their closets; particularly since in both cases it seemed like Republicans were caught off guard by the allegations. Sometimes things fall through the cracks and problems turn up unexpectedly, but in the case of Enstrom and Watson, a fresh-faced intern could have found these problems in a few hours.
It’s totally unacceptable to miss these kinds of problems early, but it’s even worse to lead with your chin. When McNulty was touting Watson as the GOP’s new “rising star,” he was setting them both up for catastrophic falls.
8. Gov. John Hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper, elected in 2010 as a Democrat, has proven quite frustrating to base Colorado Democrats–frequently siding with, or at least making big concessions to Republicans, just plain idiotic statements about drinking fracking fluid, and pushing the privatization of state-chartered Pinnacol Assurance over the objections of just about everybody.
It was much easier for Hickenlooper to straddle this fence with a divided legislature. Hickenlooper’s “post-partisanship” has a kind of shallow media appeal, but we don’t think it has been tested in a way that qualifies him for the higher office for which he is widely rumored to have an interest. Hickenlooper’s “bringing people together” approached worked as Denver Mayor (as it should, in a political structure giving the Mayor significant power), and he has tried to keep it up as Governor. But for the first time in his political career, Hick is a Democrat with a fully Democratic controlled General Assembly. He won’t have Republicans to blame for legislation he tries to kill or veto. Hick and his staff are going to have to really be on their toes dealing with legislation during the session, because he’ll have no excuse for vetoing a Democratic bill once it lands on his desk.
9. Eric Sondermann and Floyd Ciruli
Two fixtures in the political pundit circuit in Colorado, consultants Eric Sondermann and Floyd Ciruli, made major mistakes this year in predictions and commentary that hurt their credibility. Ciruli, a former chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, made a fool of himself for claiming this year that “Democrats had $4 million to Republicans’ $30,000 in 2010, helping stop the Republican national tide in Colorado.”
Ciruli was referring to a widely-discredited story by Karen Crummy of the Denver paper, which claimed that Democrats “outraised Republicans 150-to-1″ in 2010. In truth, Crummy was only counting so-called independent expenditure committees, generally ignoring 527s, 501(c)4 groups, and so many others who most certainly spend money on elections…without disclosure. Crummy at least briefly noted that there was other kinds of money in play, but Ciruli didn’t even manage that. For someone who represents himself as an expert, claiming that Democrats had this kind of cash advantage in 2010 is nothing short of ludicrous.
Consultant Eric Sondermann likewise made predictions about this year’s elections that were not only wrong, but revealed a significant lack of understanding of the situation on the ground. Two years ago, Sondermann predicted there was no way Michael Bennet could win based on Bennet’s standing with men, only to watch as Bennet’s 17-point advantage with women propelled him to victory.
Last month, on the very same day that Obama regained a national advantage in polling, Sondermann predicted that Mitt Romney’s “momentum” would carry him to a win. In both of these predictions on the top of the ticket in both elections, Sondermann summoned up all his mad pundit skills–and picked the loser. Now Sondermann told Jason Salzman afterward that he was pressured to make a call when we believed it was a “tossup.” We’d say you should always make the call you believe is true. Even the most partisan of politicos was at least suspicious that Romney had real momentum.
In both cases, we think it’s time reporters broaden their pool of talking heads.