Even though Colorado Republicans took over the state senate in this year's elections by a single seat, Democrats have consoled themselves with two wins both symbolically and strategically important: taking back the two seats lost in last year's recall elections in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. In Pueblo's Senate District 3, Democrats winning back the seat was practically a foregone conclusion: the district is overwhelmingly Democrats, and the recall would not have succeeded there were it not for Byzantine political squabbles in Pueblo that further weakened the incumbent.
In SD-11, covering urban Colorado Springs and relatively liberal Manitou Springs, the numbers don't favor Democrats nearly as much, and recall winner Bernie Herpin had at least some hope of keeping his seat. This is, after all, the seat that John Morse barely held in 2010 in addition to having lost last year. Reapportionment shored up the seat for Democrats to some degree, but it was still by far the more competitive of the two. What's more, these seats had enormous symbolic value after the nationwide attention paid to the 2013 recalls. In the aftermath of last week's elections, the ouster of both recall winners has been cited nationally as evidence that the Republican wave was at least partially broken in Colorado.
Part of the consoling irony for Democrats in Herpin's ouster by a wide margin a week ago is the man who ousted him: Michael Merrifield, a former state representative who also served as the state organizer for national gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. All told, the gun lobby's "wave of fear" strategy of using the Colorado recalls to forestall gun safety legislation in other states may be what took the real beating last Tuesday:
Now it’s gun-control activists who are crowing.
Mark Glaze, former executive director of the group Everytown for Gun Safety, said the results showed that when a significant portion of the electorate turns out, rather than a small, agitated minority, support for something like universal background checks for gun buyers is a politically winning position. (That was part of the package Hickenlooper, who was reelected Tuesday, signed into law.)
“The message remains that the [National Rifle Association] can bully politicians or buy them for a few pieces of silver but they have no influence over the general public,” Glaze said.
Bottom line: sources tell us that internal El Paso County rivalries may have kept the Senate Republicans from doing more to help Bernie Herpin this year, even after he became a national hero for the party because of his recall victory. In a year where money was lavished on Republican legislative candidates, there was apparently nothing in the way of outside money to defend this particular member of the GOP caucus in a wave Republican year. Responsibility for that, to the extent it's true, would fall on incoming Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman as the chief strategist of the GOP's Senate campaign efforts.
There is other evidence that Cadman didn't like and/or trust Bernie Herpin much, like Herpin's assignment to the frequently toxic Senate State Affairs Committee this year while Pueblo's George Rivera got more politically defensible assignments. Now, maybe the GOP saw data that made them write this seat off early, but we can tell you that Democrats made the full investment in SD-11 as with races they considered competitive. And if you think Pueblo's intra-Democratic relations are sketchy, compare them with the backstab fest that is the El Paso County Republican Party.
If Cadman did cede the one seat the gun lobby could have held on to from last year's historic recall elections, especially for (to put it diplomatically) nonstrategic reasons, we can't see how that will be good for the already tense partnership between the Dudley Browns of the world and the Colorado GOP.