Numbers don’t lie, but they aren’t saying much about the Colorado U.S. Senate race, either.
With less than 90 days until the Nov. 3 election, the relative dearth of public polling in the U.S. Senate race could come as a shock to most political wonks and partisan activists. They are accustomed to regular updates throughout such a high-profile campaign.
Currently, RealClearPolitics currently does not have a single poll listed between Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper. The website typically acts as a clearinghouse for polls, aggregating and weighting the most recent to provide a broad picture of races. For example, the Maine U.S. Senate race displayed three polls taken in just over the past month with an RCP Average of +4.4 for Sara Gideon over the incumbent Sen. Susan Collins.
Likewise, the North Carolina U.S. Senate race returned four recent polls while the race in Arizona highlighted five. Even Montana had two significant polls to report.
The Colorado race does not do fare much better elsewhere. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight tracker listed a single recent poll in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race. It noted that Morning Consult – a pollster with a mediocre “B/C” grade from FiveThirtyEight – found Hickenlooper beating Gardner by six points.
Given that Gardner is one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators heading into 2020, it is astounding to see such an utter paucity of polling.
A prime driver may be private polling. Trade groups and political organizations testing the race as part of a larger survey do not frequently release their data. Instead, they use it as a tool to guide political spending and tell them where money is most efficiently spent and where it is a lost cause. Consequently, following the money usually provides a significant indicator of what those private polls indicate.
That does not bode well for Gardner.
The Republican Senate Leadership Fund tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel recently announced it would run ads in five states this month. Colorado was not one of them.
While the Senate Leadership Fund previously reserved airtime in Colorado post-Labor Day – airtime that it isn’t obligated to actually use – dropping Gardner to play in previously reliably-red states like Montana, Iowa and Georgia indicates Republicans are diving into trenches for cover. And Gardner is caught in no man’s land.
That outlook is shared by local operatives. Among those I have spoken to with access to private polling, the outlook for Gardner is bleak. Rather than who wins or loses, most entertain themselves postulating on whether Hickenlooper’s margin of victory will be in double-digits.
Adding further to Gardner’s woes, the Trump-shaped anchor pulling Gardner into the depths will not be ameliorated. Amid lagging poll numbers of his own, Trump has all but forsaken our once-swing state.
Of course, Gardner could change the narrative if he released a poll that showed him edging closer as Election Day beckons. Even a partisan spin could seem plausible supported by the Morning Consult poll. The fact that the campaign has not taken that step suggests it simply does not have anything more positive to add.
Hickenlooper faces a mirror opposite problem. Releasing internal polls that demonstrate a significant lead could potentially lead to overconfidence among his supporters, sap enthusiasm to turnout and act to undermine his lead.
Consequently, the campaign strategy is likely to let the clock tick down until November avoiding any mention of his commanding lead.
It seems Colorado has two horses and a race, but no crowd watching it. But than again, in 2020 even the Kentucky Derby will be limiting its crowd size. In both instances the normally sublime spectacle will give way to a simple declaration of the winner at the end.
Numbers don’t lie, and despite their conspicuous absence from the current landscape, in a little less than three months we will have the only poll that matters in the books.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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