We are finishing up our Top 10 Stories of 2014 by posting the final four all at once.
As we realized while writing the first six entries, there isn’t much that we can say about the biggest stories of 2014 that hasn’t already been written in this space. With 2015 already upon us, it’s time to close this series out.
With that, we give you the entire list of our Top 10 Stories of 2014. Follow the links below for the first six entries, or follow the jump to read the final four in its entirety.
#10: Colorado’s Two-Headed Electorate
#9: Unfinished Business in Jefferson County
#8: Cory Gardner Runs for U.S. Senate
#6: Colorado GOP Goes WTF
#5: So Much for Those Recalls
#4: Republicans Battle Each Other But Take Control of State Senate (below)
#3: Coffman Crushes Romanoff in CD-6 (below)
#2: Hick Finds His Groove, and Another Bad Loss for Beauprez (below)
#1: Gardner Wins Senate Seat, Ending Long Career for Mark Udall (below)
#4: Republicans Battle Each Other But Take Control of State Senate
The Colorado legislature kicks off its 70th General Assembly today with Republicans in control of the State Senate for the first time since 2004.
New Senate President Bill Cadman presides over the narrowest of majorities (18-17) won by a ridiculously narrow margin; Republican Beth Martinez Humenik defeated Democrat Judy Solano by about 689 votes in SD-24 (Adams County), turning a one-seat Democratic majority into a one-seat Republican Senate that wasn’t finally decided until the Saturday after Election Day. Democrats were well prepared to keep control of the Senate by winning a half-dozen or so targeted races, but once all of the ballots were finally counted, it was an open Senate seat in Adams County that ended up being the difference for majority control.
There are rarely “moral victories” in political races – after all, there can only be one winner in each contest – but Republicans and Democrats were able to celebrate in their own way.
Republicans eked out a small majority despite months of bitter infighting from the Tea Party wing and Dudley Brown’s Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) group – particularly in bellwether Jefferson County, where the RMGO openly attacked the Jefferson County Republican Party. Republicans also managed to win the majority despite trying to prop up a handful of truly awful candidates, from Tony Sanchez in Lakewood to Don Suppes on the West Slope.
Democrats knew that 2014 was going to be a tough time to hold the majority in the Senate. Maintaining a one-seat advantage of their own left virtually no margin for error. Still, Democrats managed to take back the two seats lost during the 2013 recall elections; in two years they will be favored to win SD-19 (Republican Laura
Waters Woods), which will be on the ballot again in 2016 for a full four-year term; Democrats maintain control of the State House and the Governor’s office; and Senate President Cadman’s majority is a migraine in the making.
Cadman will have to find a way to control the lunatic fringe of the GOP that is led by Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Lundberg and Majority Caucus Chair Vicki Marble. And when they break for committee assignments, the Senate Education Committee should be a source of consistent ridiculousness. Preventing Republicans from inflicting massive damage on themselves will be Cadman’s biggest task.
#3: Coffman Crushes Romanoff in CD-6
In 2012 an underfunded – and underwhelming – Democratic challenger came unexpectedly close to unseating Rep. Mike Coffman in the first real battle in CD-6 following the 2011 redistricting cycle that remade Coffman’s district from a safe Republican stronghold into one of the most diverse and competitive seats in America.
With a much stronger Democratic opponent in 2014, Coffman’s number should have been up. Instead, Coffman pulled off a stunning 9-point blowout victory that nobody saw coming. It would not have been a surprise for Coffman to win or lose by 2-3 points; instead, partygoers barely had a chance to pick up their first drink before all major media outlets called the race in Coffman’s favor.
Coffman’s Democratic challenger, Andrew Romanoff, came into the 2014 race with high expectations. In many ways, he lived up to those expectations, especially when it came to fundraising. With a hefty war chest and strong name ID, Democrats thought Romanoff had a good chance to knock out Coffman once and for all.
But in the end, Romanoff substantially underperformed in his bid to unseat Coffman. Pundits are still trying to understand why Romanoff was beaten so handily, but the primary reason seems to have been Romanoff's reliance on polling results that created an odd centrist message – one that did not reflect Romanoff’s strengths, did nothing to excite his base, and proved worthless with moderate voters. We understand that 2014 was not 2012, and that the electoral climate last year was much less favorable to Democrats. But there is no denying that Romanoff substantially underperformed compared to other Democrats running in 2014. There’s no way to sugarcoat what happened in CD-6; Coffman completely demolished Romanoff at the ballot box.
It’s been reported that Romanoff is on the short list for a 2016 rematch against Coffman, or perhaps a run at an open seat if Coffman chooses to run for the U.S. Senate. Romanoff is a strong enough fundraiser that he can’t be dismissed outright, but Democrats need to think long and hard about how to approach this critical swing seat in 2016.
#2: Hick Finds His Groove, and Another Bad Loss for Beauprez
As 2013 was coming to an end, it was clear that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s shine had most certainly worn off. Hickenlooper took office in 2011 with some of the highest approval ratings of any Colorado governor in recent history, but by 2014, most of Hickenlooper’s political capital had been expended or misused. Intra-Democratic battles over oil and gas development, the massive brouhaha over the 2013 gun safety bills and recall elections, and Hickenlooper’s granting of a reprieve to a high-profile death row inmate left the Governor in the toughest spot of his political career.
But once again, Hickenlooper’s legendary good fortune – and some sound strategy — gave him exactly what he needed to survive the 2014 Republican wave. Hickenlooper stuck to a positive economic message throughout his re-election campaign, and he was blessed with an opponent as singularly awful as former Congressman and 2006 gubernatorial loser Bob Beauprez.
Colorado Republicans were keenly aware of Hickenlooper’s vulnerability as 2013 drew to a close – they just didn’t have anybody who could beat him. Mike Kopp, Greg Brophy, Tom Tancredo, and Scott Gessler fought inconclusively to win over the Republican base, which provided an opening for Beauprez to work his Washington, D.C. connections at the expense of the rest of the field. Beauprez bungled his campaign announcement in typical “Both Ways Bob” fashion, but it was clear that he was the only Republican candidate who could come up with the resources to run a real campaign that wouldn’t also damage the prospects of Senate candidate Cory Gardner.
Once Beauprez entered the race, national Republican money and influence swung to his side, outraging Tancredo and his supporters but effectively ending the primary weeks before it occurred.
Early on in the campaign, Hickenlooper swore off negative advertising against whoever emerged as his General Election opponent. Say what you will about Hickenlooper’s policies as governor, but as a candidate for re-election he was a model of message discipline. Hickenlooper’s positive campaign message, focused on the state’s strong economic recovery from years of recession, echoed a cheery economic message from Gardner – a factor that contributed to victory for both candidates.
Of course, Hickenlooper benefited greatly from another poor campaign from Beauprez (though at least Bob didn’t match his “worst of all time” 2006 campaign). Beauprez’s campaign in 2014 was built around overt appeals to fear – going far enough to earn a rebuke from the Denver Post editorial board – along with new falsehoods about recent tragedies in Colorado that shocked the conscience of anyone who knew what he was talking about. Beauprez’s scare tactics on crime in Colorado and prison reform under Hickenlooper were so far from the reality of Coloradan’ lives that they repelled undecided voters. As Beauprez’s ugly attack ads kept coming in the final weeks before the election, Hickenlooper garnered sympathy as a decent, if imperfect, man who didn’t deserve the amount of mud being slung at him.
2014 was a year full of ugly, negative, and in many cases false political attacks–attacks that largely failed to win over cynical and mistrustful voters. It’s very possible that the lesson of both John Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner’s victories this year is this: the best way to survive a negative onslaught, whether you deserve it or not, is to make the affirmative case for your election.
The other, more obvious lesson: Bob Beauprez should stop running for public office.
#1: Gardner Wins Senate Seat, Ending Long Career of Mark Udall
Obviously, this is the top story of 2014 in Colorado. Heck, it might even be one of the top stories in the entire country because it helped Republicans solidify majority control of the U.S. Senate. Cory Gardner’s campaign itself was a big enough story that it made it to #8 on our list.
There isn’t a lot to say about Cory Gardner’s 2014 victory that hasn’t been said already. Political strategists have a pretty good idea of how and why Democratic Sen. Mark Udall failed to win re-election in the face of a Republican wave. Gardner smiled, ducked, and dodged his way around important questions while Udall’s campaign relentlessly hammered his cherubic opponent on abortion and contraception issues – failing (or refusing) to make any adjustments as that message began to fall flat in September.
The unfortunate end to Mark Udall’s long career of public service can also be told with the story of a weird night of election returns. As we wrote in November:
On Election Night, the early returns in Colorado didn't reflect Democratic strongholds that were counting late into the night. As a result, the numbers in Colorado for television audiences fed the national narrative of a Republican wipeout–and excited reporters and local Republicans were only too happy to reinforce this generalization.
Udall didn’t have to wait long on Election Night before the Senate race was called in Gardner’s favor, while Hickenlooper was left to chew on his fingernails for several more hours. But the final tally told a different tale: Gardner defeated Udall by about 2 percentage points, and Hickenlooper ended up beating Beauprez by 3 points (49-46). The narrative on Election Night — that Gardner had soundly beaten Udall – turned out to be pretty far from the truth.
The early returns compelled Udall to make a relatively early trip to the podium for his concession speech, which turned out to be a fitting end to a wild 2014 campaign. Udall was a true statesman in his concession to Gardner, telling the audience how proud he felt to have been able to serve Colorado for nearly two decades. Weeks later, Udall concluded his Senate term with a heartfelt speech on the CIA Torture report, which would never have seen the light of day if not for Udall’s determination.
It has been said that the Mark Udall who gave his concession speech was a different person than the candidate who failed to hold his seat in 2014, and we don’t entirely disagree. Udall’s re-election campaign was absent the passion and conviction that he showed on Election Night and in the final weeks of his tenure in office. Would that Mark Udall have held off Cory Gardner? It’s a fascinating question to ponder as we close the books on 2014.