John Hickenlooper, Mike Coffman could see political fallout, pollster says

John Hickenlooper and Mike Coffman aren't exactly ideological twins. But at the end of this big political week in the State of Colorado, they both face political fallout, albeit for very different reasons: a special session that failed to pass civil unions and comments questioning Barack Obama's birth records, respectively. Will they be hurt by these events? Quite possibly, says Floyd Ciruli, Colorado's preeminent pollster.

At the conclusion of the special session, the governor's office sent out a press release entitled, "Important legislation passes during special session," which specifically cited three measures: a water projects bill that "will create jobs and protect water supplies for towns and agriculture through $61 million worth of loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB);" an unemployment insurance bill that "will help return Colorado's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to solvency by allowing employers to receive credit within their individual accounts for repayment of principal-related bonding amounts;" and a special mobile machinery fleets bill that changes registration procedures "to allow owners of ten or more pieces of rental special mobile machinery to register their fleet once per year."

These three measures were among the seven Hickenlooper listed as priorities before the special session got underway. But the two highest profile pieces of legislation involved civil unions, which never got out of committee, and a THC driving bill that died on the Senate floor because one legislator, Nancy Spence, was on vacation.

Given this perception, will the special session be seen as a net political gain or a net deficit for Hick?

"I think it's a deficit," Circuli says. "They've spent a lot of time trying to describe it as being about something other than civil unions -- but he's playing defense. He understands that this was a vulnerability."

In Ciruli's view, civil unions "was one of the most salient issues in his State of the State address, and he had a lot to do with launching it, although, obviously, others carried it and did a lot of strategizing. And he didn't get civil unions. He went through the agony of calling a $75,000 special session and didn't get what he was most interested in. And the Republicans recognize it. That's why they immediately started running ads about this all being about gay marriage. And they've talked about how much more could have been accomplished if everyone wasn't so obsessed with gay marriage this last session."

At the same time, Ciruli acknowledges that Republicans aren't clear victors, either. "Whenever the Speaker of the House kills a bill," as Frank McNulty appears to have done with civil unions, "he looks like a dictator. He looks like he's being anti-democratic -- and he looked a little disheveled when he didn't have his vote count in judiciary." Moreover, Ciruli points out that attendees at a pro-civil unions rally earlier this week included, as reported by the Denver Post, "big-name Republicans such as Dan Ritchie, Maria Garcia Berry, Pat Hamill and Greg Stevinson." If such people choose to either make donations to Democrats or give less than usual to Republicans due to civil unions, the impact on state House and Senate races in November could be considerable.

As for Coffman, Ciruli thinks his stated uncertainty about whether Obama was born in the United States at an Elbert County event earlier this month could have significant repercussions in terms of his reputation as a middle-of-the-road Republican, as opposed to one on the party's fringes.

Page down to continue reading Floyd Ciruli's take on Mike Coffman's birther comments. "He's certainly made votes that Democrats and others might label extreme," Ciruli acknowledges. "But within the confines of the Colorado Republican Party, he was seen much more as a centrist. He's run statewide successfully a couple of times when the party was having trouble, and a number of his jobs were more administrative" -- a reference to Coffman's previous jobs as Secretary of State and treasurer. "And he followed Tom Tancredo in that district, and to my mind, he was definitely more to the center than Tom was. He didn't take up immigration like Tom did, and he followed his own interests, including the military."

Coffman's success at cultivating this image only added to Ciruli's surprise over his born-in-the-USA comments. "I was just amazed by it," he says, especially after discovering that the remarks weren't taken out of context. "Not only did he touch on the birther thing, which, as you know, is a Peter Boyles morning show kind of thing that only a very small percentage of folks are interested in at this point, but he added that in his heart, Obama is not an American -- and he said it with considerable emotion. I thought, 'Whoa!'"

Adding to the potential impact of the comments are the new boundaries of the 6th congressional district, which could make the race between Coffman and Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi one of the closest in the country, as he argues in a recent blog post.

Why? His reasons go beyond the district's demographic changes due to the new lines to include the recent decision of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to put a significant amount of cash behind Miklosi. "That's not to say some super PAC won't give Coffman a lot of money if they think he's in trouble," Ciruli notes -- and moolah isn't the be-all and end-all, as he stresses in another recent blog post. "But it's a sign that the Democrats see this seat as one they have a possibility of winning, and they only need thirty or so seats to take back the House."

Fortunately for Coffman, we're still months before the election, and his immediate apology was smart, in Ciruli's view. But even so, "it gives the Democrats a potential theme," he believes. "You'll remember that the fundamental campaign for Michael Bennet was that Ken Buck," his opponent in the 2010 senatorial race, "was too extreme for Colorado. That was the bumper sticker against Buck. And they may go after Coffman by saying, 'He's more extreme than you think.'"

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More from our Politics archive: "Top ten recent politicians to excuse stupid comments with 'I misspoke.'"

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