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Littwin: In November, Colorado’s races should come down to inflation and Biden vs. Roe and Jan. 6

Jared Polis will fend off Heidi Ganahl, but while Michael Bennet is favored over Joe O’Dea, nothing’s a sure thing, especially in a midterm election

The most obvious take from the Colorado primaries last week is that Republicans, at least in the statewide races, rejected the Big Lie and also rejected the Big Crazies who were running in support of that lie. 

Mike Littwin

I mean, can we all just give Ron Hanks and Tina Peters, in particular, a hearty farewell? My guess is that state Rep. Hanks will slip back into relative obscurity — the perfect place for him, by the way — and that Mesa County Clerk Peters, who has been indicted on 10 election-related charges, seven of them felonies, will be very fortunate if she avoids prison time. In fact, the only positive I can see in Peters’ future is that the MyPillow guy would probably set her up with some comfortable jailhouse bedding.

But the story doesn’t end there, of course. The real story is just beginning. And all that is at stake is everything.

Assuming that the election gurus have it right — and the judgments are pretty close to unanimous — Jared Polis will have little problem dispatching Heidi Ganahl in the governor’s race. Colorado has a long history of reelecting incumbents. Polis, of course, has unlimited funds to spend. And even when Colorado was a deep red state, it still had a habit of electing Democratic governors.

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And it took Ganahl — who ran, to put it kindly, an unimpressive primary race — almost the entire campaign and several January 6 committee hearings to finally understand that she would have no choice but to comment on the Big Lie. But she isn’t likely to back away from Donald Trump, who, you’ll remember, lost Colorado by 13 points in 2020. And her takes on Roe and Colorado’s new abortion-rights law have been, let’s say, all over the place, but mostly in strongly anti-abortion territory.

The big question for Ganahl is whether national Republicans think she has any chance and whether they will send any money her way. Even in the Citizens United era of unlimited dark money, there’s only so much to go around, and there are a lot more important — and likely competitive — races for Republicans than this one.

Meanwhile, the buzz around Polis is that if Joe Biden doesn’t run in 2024 — and I’m almost ready to begin taking bets that he won’t — then Polis, who has never been shy, even by political standards, about his ambitions, will be considered as possible presidential material. He says he wouldn’t conceivably leave Colorado for any job, but if he could ignore the whispers — see: Hickenlooper, John and Bennet, Michael — I’d be somewhere between surprised and shocked.

The funny thing is that when he first ran for governor, Republicans did their best to paint him as a Boulder radical liberal. But the reason a lot of Democratic strategists like him is that Polis governed far more like a libertarian than a progressive, particularly when it came to COVID.

In the state’s most important race, because it could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, Michael Bennet will be challenged by political novice Joe O’Dea. Again, Bennet, who has a “likely” to hold seat rating by the Cook Report, has the advantage of incumbency. He won’t have any problem raising money. 

And liberals, who have been lukewarm on Bennet during his Washington tenure, will be reminded of Bennet’s Senate floor fights with the oily Ted Cruz and his championing of the expanded child tax credit, which briefly raised millions of children out of poverty. The tax credit law was set to sunset after a year and wasn’t renewed, meaning those millions of kids have slipped right back into poverty. If you’ve got a problem with that — and the law does poll very well — there’s only way to get it back, which is to elect a Democratic Congress.

This is O’Dea’s first run for office. He’s a construction company owner who was smart enough to stay away from the Big Lie from the beginning. He did the moderate thing on abortion by saying that though he’s personally pro-life, he didn’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But he also said he wouldn’t have voted for the new Colorado law that passed in the legislature this year, the one guaranteeing abortion rights.

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It won’t be as easy for O’Dea in a general election, in which Democrats hope to make the conservative Supreme Court in general, and the end of Roe in particular, central to their 2020 message. Their other big issue will be the January 6 attempted coup and what we learn from January 6 committee hearings. So far, the hearings have suggested that a number of Republicans eventually may need help from the My Pillow guy. Maybe even Trump himself. Is O’Dea going to abandon Trump? I’d guess not.

The testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, top aide to Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was devastating. And the way these hearings have worked, they’ve built on each other to make the case against Trump and his team ever stronger. The last hearings are scheduled for September, which even given America’s short attention span, should be fresh in the minds of midterm voters. Trump keeps complaining that Republicans aren’t defending him. But the reason for a lack of defense is that many cowardly Trump defenders have refused invitations — and even subpoenas — to testify.

And it’s likely that the Senate will act on a bill codifying Roe — one that has already been passed by the House — putting it to a vote and putting everyone on the record. Biden has even called for Dems to circumvent filibuster rules to get the bill passed. Sadly, thanks to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, they won’t. And given O’Dea’s objections to the Colorado law, particularly concerning late-term abortions, I’d bet he’s not eager to endorse a Senate vote. 

This is a race that has national interest, of course, given that the Senate is evenly divided at 50-50, and Republicans have the clear-cut historical advantage of the party out of power gaining seats. But if Hanks had won the primary, this would have been a safe seat for Bennet. That’s why Democrats threw so much money at the Republican primary. As of now, Bennet’s seat is something like the 10th most likely seat to flip, which means it is nowhere near the front of the line. The money will come in any way — all semi-competitive races will see obscene amounts of spending — but O’Dea will have to show that he’s competitive for the national Republicans to go all in.

Colorado Democrats are a lot more worried about losing the state Senate — where they have a 20-15 majority — and the down-ballot statewide offices, where Republicans, even in good Democratic times, often find success. And if this is a wave election — which is obviously possible with inflation raging and Joe Biden’s approval ratings in collapse — Republicans will likely get some strong push in Colorado, maybe even enough for O’Dea to give Bennet a good run, not to mention enhance their prospects in the newly created 8th Congressional District and possibly in the 7th following Ed Perlmutter’s retirement.

To avoid a wave and possibly to hold the U.S. Senate — the Dems, we keep hearing, will probably lose the House whether or not there’s a tsunami-like wave — the Democrats will have to keep the spotlight on overturning Roe and the other radical Supreme Court rulings. There’s a long list after Roe. The conservative-dominated court has already diminished Biden’s ability to combat climate change, has shrunk the separation between church and state, and has jumped right into the gun-safety debate by overturning a 108-year-old New York law.

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In many cases, the justices went out of their way to greatly expand on the cases that were before them. As Chief Justice John Roberts begged his conservative colleagues, they could have simply upheld the restrictive Mississippi law they were considering without touching Roe. Instead, we’ll now see a mishmash of laws across the country, many of which — like receiving abortion pills in the mail or women leaving their states to get an abortion elsewhere — will probably make their way back to the Supreme Court.

And then there’s Clarence Thomas – who, in his concurring opinion, gave us several clues  as to where the court might be headed next — and he’s talking about xtargeting same-sex marriage, contraception, even bringing back sodomy laws and who knows what else.

In a normal year, inflation should doom the Democrats in November, and it may very well still do so. But this is not a normal year, starting with the assault on the Capitol and the war in Ukraine. 

The thing is, now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time we had a normal year.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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