The 2012 elections sounded another new low for the Colorado Republican Party. Angered by the GOP state house majority's extraordinary measures to kill LGBT civil union legislation at the end of the 2012 session, voters threw out the single-seat Republican majority, restoring Democrats to full control of the General Assembly by a healthy margin. The 2010 round of legislative reapportionment is considered by most observers to have gone badly for Republicans as well, with a large number of newly competitive districts ill-suited to the staunch conservative candidates favored by the GOP primary process.
With the exception of the 2010 "Republican wave" election, in which Republicans still fell short of their goals but managed to take the state house by a single seat, the GOP has been losing elections in Colorado since 2004. The reversal of Republican fortunes from their dominance in the late Nineties through 2002 to Democratic dominance at every level of state government since then has been the subject of books like Blueprint by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer. Safe to say, the past decade has been very, very tough for the morale of Colorado Republicans.
And then last year, an opportunity to strike back presented itself.
In the wake of mass shootings in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado and in Newtown, Connecticut, support grew among Colorado Democrats to introduce gun safety legislation in the 2013 session. On the morning of the Newtown shooting, Gov. John Hickenlooper was quoted by the Denver Post as having had a change of heart from the aftermath of Aurora in the summer–when he basically said that new gun laws wouldn't help. The news later that day powerfully reinforced Hickenlooper's new view.
As we documented in this space, the campaign to pass gun safety legislation in 2013 turned into the biggest political battle in the Colorado legislature in recent history. Democrats were besieged by pro-gun activists and agitated gun owning members of the public. Crowds of people turned out to testify against the bills, overwhelming hearings, while others drove around the state capitol continuously sounding their horns. Gun owners were in many cases duped by falsehoods about the proposed legislation, being explicitly told by GOP legislators and gun-rights activists that the bills would "ban gun ownership in Colorado." Other alarmist falsehoods, like claims that legislation to limit magazine capacity would "ban all magazines," were pushed by gun activists and uncritically reported by a thoughtless local media.
The result of this misinformed free-for-all was a bitterly angry segment of voters willing to work full time to defeat Democrats responsible for gun safety legislation. As a result of the intense campaign of misinformation by the gun lobby and allied Republicans, a huge gap emerged in public opinion between polled opposition to the vague concept of "gun control," even as they register support–in some cases overwhelming support–for the bills actually passed by the Colorado General Assembly.