Republicans won nothing in the Colorado recalls

John MorseI wouldn’t make too much out of what happened in Colorado with the recalls of John Morse and Angela Giron. The NRA spent a lot of money on those races that they won’t be spending in 2014, for one, and both Republican substitutes will have to run for office again next year because they are serving out terms that are about to expire.

If they Giron and Morse don’t run in 2014, the two Republicans will face general election challengers during a mid-term election which will juice turnout in a state that’s gone from battleground to reliably blue over the past decade.

John Morse was extremely liberal but serving in an ideologically balanced district. He was expected to lose by a narrow margin and he did. Denver politicos have said that he probably would have lost in 2010 had a Libertarian candidate not sapped support from the Republican. Additionally, turnout was quite low. Only 18,000 people voted in the Morse recall.

That said, Morse only lost by 343 votes. That’s how weak the recall effort was in district 11.

Giron lost by 12 points in a Colorado Senate district that leans heavily Democratic and voted for Barack Obama by about 18 points in 2012, and I don’t think anyone expected that to happen. But it’s still hard to see it as meaningful. That district is very liberal and polls have shown support there for the gun regulation laws that Giron voted for. I think it’s likely the gun votes rallied Republicans in the area to get out and vote but did very little for Democrats.

That climate will change in 2014 when a regular election is scheduled, Giron won’t be on the ballot, and Republicans can’t make the election about gun regs. I seriously doubt any Republican will defeat even a generic Democrat in Giron’s district next year. That seat is going right back to the Democratic Party.

Morse’s district is a different story. Because this recall was a referendum on gun regs and John Morse, his Republican replacement hasn’t been vetted by voters and nobody knows his ability to raise funds without getting pickup trucks full of gold bars from the NRA simply for having an “R” next to his name. Remember, two Democrats were recalled. These weren’t straight up races between two candidates like we’re all used to. People didn’t vote for Bernie Herpin but Herpin is going to have to run a serious campaign all by himself without the help of outside groups next year and nobody knows if he can do that, or if he’ll even try.

Democrats will definitely get one of these seats back in about 14 months, and a good Democratic candidate should be able to get the other one back as well. It’s possible that a lame Democrat could win if Morse’s Republican replacement turns out to be a really bad politician.

It’s also possible that Herpin will legislate as a moderate Republican and hang onto the seat for a while.

Despite what happened, it’s hard to see this as being all about guns. The NRA tried to recall four Democrats this year — presumably only those they thought they could actually beat — but only managed to get enough signatures to recall two of them. Colorado passed a background check law that has wide support in the state. The limit on magazine size is about 50/50. Both laws have support nationally with universal background checks hitting 90%.

Despite a lot of empty rhetoric, these gun regs aren’t nearly as unpopular in Colorado as opponents would have you believe.

These recalls weren’t about gun regs so much as they were about pissed off Republicans with no meaningful political power in the entire state that came out in numbers large enough to make changes in a low-turnout special election, and the gun lobby buying recalls in districts where new gun regs are actually pretty popular.

Those favorable conditions won’t last. Turnout will increase in 2014 for the federal mid-terms and Democrats will have fresh liberal faces for voters to choose from.

And at least for now, these recalls will have no meaningful affect on politics in Colorado. Democrats still control the state Senate with a 18-17 majority. One local analysis puts it at “19-16 pro-Second Amendment” (which is nonsense, we’re all “pro-Second Amendment”) but Democrats won’t bring any bills to the floor that would repeal the new gun regs, and even if they did, no such legislation would pass the state House. Nor would anything make it past the desk of Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.

Because of low turnout, it only took 54,000 total votes to flip these two seats to the GOP, but Colorado is still a state where Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governors mansion, and it voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. With 2.5 million active voters last year, barely 2% of the state spoke when Giron and Morse were recalled.

Next year will see more than a million have their voice heard overall.

My best guess is that Giron’s seat goes to whichever Democrat wins the primary, and Morse’s seat is a toss-up that with a good Democratic candidate, will lean Democrat. And the new gun regs are here to stay.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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