For those of you who remember fondly the halcyon days when Colorado had its all-too-brief moment as a purple swing state, a time in which all things political seemed possible, we have what looks like really bad news.

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In the latest polling, this from Emerson College, Jared Polis is leading Heidi Ganahl by 17 points in the race for governor and Michael Bennet is leading Joe O’Dea by 10 points in the U.S. Senate race. And it’s not just Emerson. Even though some polls have shown the races closer, they’ve pretty much all shown Polis and Bennet leading.

I know we don’t, and shouldn’t, trust polls in the way some of us once did. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the Trump era — besides the disturbing notion that the Trumpist crazies and the even crazier QAnoners seem to, uh, coincidentally like the same music — it’s that polling credibility, much like American democracy itself, has taken a real beating.

And yet, let’s agree that 17 points and 10 points are a lot of points, especially from a nonpartisan pollster. Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com gives Emerson an A-minus when judging its reliability, and I’d guess that if Emerson were to get both Colorado races wrong, it would be lucky to get a D-minus in the next grading period.

I’m not surprised by those numbers, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the margins — don’t forget the all-important pluses and minuses — turn out to be somewhat smaller.

The point is, Colorado is a blue state and has been for a while. And it seems to be getting bluer every year, which is how Joe Biden could beat Donald Trump by 13 points in the 2020 election. (Yes, yes, yes. Biden did win the election. Check out the next January 6 hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, if you are still in need of more evidence.)

On the other hand, if Colorado Republicans were ever to make a comeback from their recent electoral disasters, this would seem to be the time. You know the drill by now.

It’s a midterm election, in which the party out of power nearly always gains seats and usually a significant number of seats.

Worse still for Democrats, it’s a midterm election in which the president’s approval ratings, even after ticking up recently, remain semi-disastrous.

For Colorado Republicans, looking back at the recent trouncings, it seemed that the only possible way to go was, well, up. That seemed especially true when Colorado Republicans, unlike those in say Pennsylvania or Arizona, actually rejected most of the real crazies during the recent primary season.

And even in some of the bluest of blue states — like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts — they have GOP governors, just as Colorado had Democratic governors back when Colorado was a deep-red state.

But here we are — after the GOP establishment had applauded O’Dea for beating Ron Hanks and Ganahl for beating Greg Lopez in the primaries — with Democrats seeming to be well ahead. And in the one place where Republicans have been really concentrating their efforts — in the race for control of the state Senate — they just lost one senator, Kevin Priola, who switched parties.

And if you don’t believe the polls, there is still one thing I promise you can trust — just follow the money. And what we’ve seen from national Republicans and national Democrats is that neither is spending in Colorado. 

There is outside money, of course. As The Sun reported in its Unaffiliated newsletter Friday, two outside Super PACs have each begun $2.5 million TV campaigns backing Bennet. One is the Giffords PAC, in support of tougher gun regulations, and one is 53 Peaks, advertising in support of abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

O’Dea, in his first run for any office, has presented himself as a moderate by modern GOP standards. He doesn’t believe in the Big Lie. He says he hopes Trump doesn’t run in 2024. But he’s not so moderate on guns, given that he opposed the bipartisan gun bill that passed Congress into law this year. 

And even as a relative moderate on abortion rights — O’Dea opposes abortion after 20 weeks except in the cases of rape, incest or health of the mother — he revealed that he voted for the last Colorado referendum on abortion, which didn’t include any exceptions. And which Coloradans, not incidentally, rejected by a 59-41 margin.

Those are two issues in which Democrats are confident they hold the upper hand. 

Meanwhile, O’Dea, a contractor, has a $2 million TV ad campaign on the air from a Super PAC that is funded mostly by contractors. The ad is hitting Bennet on inflation and on his ties to Biden. In these hyperpartisan days, Bennet has a 98% record on voting with Biden, which seems excessive until you see that, at last count, 14 Democratic senators had a 100% pro-Biden record. 

Give O’Dea credit. He may be a relative unknown, who hasn’t yet made a deep impression on most voters, but has been a far better candidate than Ganahl, the only Republican to hold statewide office in Colorado, but whose campaign has been a statewide disaster. You can count the ways, but my personal favorite was her choice for lieutenant governor, Danny Moore.

Ganahl had spent the entire primary campaign dodging questions about the Big Lie until finally admitting that, though there might have been some irregularities, Biden did win the election. Of course, there were no significant irregularities, but that’s standard fare for Republicans who don’t want to be labeled an election denier. And Ganahl knew she couldn’t win a race for governor as a denier.

But then, for a running mate, she picks Moore, whose one claim to, uh, fame was being unanimously kicked out of his job as chair of the Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission, because he was, yes, an election denier. This was not just an unforced error. It was an unforced error on steroids.

Look, when you have demographics against you, as Republicans do in Colorado, you need strong candidates. Or you need the polls to be very wrong.

I mean, in our state, if you’re looking for unforced errors, you don’t need politicians or pollsters. Look no further than the play clock ticking down the seconds at the next Broncos game (at least someone needs to start watching it). We were told they’d be in the running this year, too. But in sports as in politics, none of the pre-game chatter matters much. The scoreboard will eventually sort it out.


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.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

Mike Littwin

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: milittwin@gmail.com Twitter: @mike_littwin