When Democrats candidly assess the party’s prospects for November, their responses range from bad to awful to cowering and moaning in a fetal position.
It looks like all but some Democrats will lose control of the House, with Republicans only needing four seats. The partisan redrawing of congressional districts after the last census should roughly cover this gap.
The real fight is for 50-50 control of the Senate, where Republicans have decked themselves out with questionable prospects.
If Democrats stay in control, it will be because of candidates like Herschel Walker, the epically clueless former college football star who could easily slip away from one of the GOP’s top pick-up opportunities in Georgia, and Holocaust deniers like Adam Laxalt. in Nevada.
But let’s say the red wave is big. Let’s just say he’s strong enough to not only sweep GOP wrecks like Walker and jetsams like Pennsylvania’s Laxalt and Mehmet Oz, but powerful enough to lead a Republican to victory in a blue state like Colorado.
In that case, November for the Democrats could be very bad.
Democrat Michael Bennet, the amiable U.S. state senator, is expected to waltz for re-election. President Biden carried Colorado by more than 13 percentage points. Republicans haven’t won the governorship in more than 20 years, and the last Republican to win a Senate seat, in 2014, barely won in a crushing year for the GOP.
But strategists on both sides say the race is far from over, even if it tilts in Bennet’s direction. While Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania look more problematic, Republicans are eyeing Colorado as a place where they could potentially win a Democratic seat and boost their chances of snatching the Senate.
Think of the state as a barometer. Or, if you don’t mind mixing metaphors, call Bennet a canary on the shore, gauging just how high the Republican tide might rise.
“He’s not in danger yet,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver pollster who has spent decades polling Colorado voters. “But [President] Biden is in terrible shape and if that becomes a major factor, many of the candidates we assume are safe could be in trouble.
Democrats have done their best to put the Senate race out of reach for Republicans. The party and its allies have spent millions promoting the state’s GOP primary, Sen. Ron Hanks, driver on trump’s crazy trainhoping to land him as Bennet’s opponent.
The strategy, which worked elsewhere, fell flat in Colorado.
Instead, Republicans chose Joe O’Dea, 60, a fourth-generation Coloradan who got rich building a construction company and calls himself “a Republican Joe Manchin” who is willing to “work with reasonable people on both sides of the aisle”.
“I will vote according to my conscience, I will make tough choices, I will ruffle some feathers,” he said after winning the primary. “No political party will own me.”
Which isn’t a bad thing to say in a state where there are more unaffiliated voters than registered Democrats or Republicans.
O’Dea rejects much of what has become GOP orthodoxy. I rejected Trump’s lie about stealing the 2020 election, opposes repeal of Affordable Care Act and says he supports right to abortion “early in pregnancy” and later in cases of rape, incest or to save the a woman’s life. (Democrats note that he has not supported legislation at the state and federal levels that would enshrine abortion rights in law.)
Like most Republicans, he would rather campaign against Biden and the plagues of crime and inflationthat marked the president’s approval rating here in Colorado as elsewhere.
It’s the weight hanging around Bennet’s neck.
The lawmaker was appointed to the Senate in 2009, when Ken Salazar joined President Obama’s cabinet, and canceled an election against a clumsy opponent in 2010, who was another banner year for Republicans. Bennet won re-election in 2016 with a less than impressive 49.97% of the vote, also against a weak opponent.
If the 57-year-old senator could be summed up in one word, it would be harmless; even political opponents say Bennet is a nice guy. Any other word would not be exceptional.
Bennet was free from controversy and avoided scandal. But he also failed to score huge legislative victories. He led an unforgettable 2020 campaign for President and unlike some former Colorado senators, they did not earn a great national reputation.
He certainly hasn’t been as visible as the other senator from Colorado, the eccentric former governor. John Hickenlooper. (Unusual like appearing in campaign ads jumping out of a plane and showering in a shirt and tie.)
“He’s more of an inside intellectual,” Ciruli said of the senior state senator.
Which isn’t really a sin, although in this state of nature worship, Bennet’s first commercial shows him walking through mountain greenery, dressed in a checkered shirt and a hiking pants, while discussing lobbying reform and dodging PAC money.
Democrats say there’s plenty in O’Dea’s record to paint him as just another standard Republican. They cite his opposition to new gun controls, his support for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, his slow-moving approach to tackling climate change, and his stated willingness to support Trump if he is the Republican candidate of 2024.
“The GOP brand is still tarnished in Colorado,” said Alan Salazar, chief of staff for Democratic Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “O’Dea must overcome this by making a clean break from Trump.”
This, however, risks alienating Republicans, forcing O’Dea to walk a fine line. As a political novice, it is not clear that he has the skills to do so.
Being a Democrat in a Democratic-leaning state should be enough for Bennet to win in November.
If he loses, it probably won’t be because of what Bennet said or did, or a lack of success.
Rather, it will be the backlash of a deeply unpopular president and a Republican wave so big it swept across the sky-scraping Rockies.