Colorado Democrats' Political Prospects Ride on Economic Recovery

If economy continues to recuperate, Republicans' fiscal-responsibility argument will weaken.

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By Laura Chapin, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Last week, Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment announced that the state jobless rate had dropped to 7 percent, almost three points below the national average.

"The worst may be behind us," said Don Mares, the department's executive director.

If the trend holds, the same could be said of pessimistic predictions for Democrats in Colorado in 2010 and the view they've hit a political ceiling. Republicans are putting all their political eggs in the economic basket—they have finally abandoned the diminishing returns of social issues and are doubling down on the economy.

According to an October 6 survey by Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli, Colorado voters rank the economy as the top issue, beating out the hot-button social issue of immigration.

So if the state and national economy continue to recover—and overall the economy has shown signs of life in the third quarter of 2009—the electoral prospects for the Democrats for the U.S. Senate, governor's mansion, and state legislature may perk up as well. It lessens the ability of the Republicans to tie state Democrats to President Obama's economic policies, and there would be plenty of ad fodder for Republicans courtesy of the president's signing of the economic stimulus bill in Denver in February.

"For better or worse, it took a Democratic administration to remind Republicans why they belonged to the GOP in the first place," says former GOP state Rep. Rob Witwer, a moderate from the swing areas of the western Denver suburbs in Jefferson County. "Republicans who were frustrated with the big spending ways of the GOP Congress in the early 2000s now know the alternative can be worse—much worse. That's rallied the base."

Still, Republicans are looking at the ever-increasing federal deficit as an opportunity to return to and campaign on their fiscally conservative economic roots. Witwer continues:

The historic growth of government spending lit a bonfire under Republicans and fiscally conservative independents [in Colorado]. The Republican identity as the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility is stronger than it's been in a long time

There are signs of life at the grassroots level for the first time since 2002. Attendance is up at local GOP events, and Republican candidates and elected officials are starting to feel the wind at their backs. 

As of July 2009, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Colorado by just over 7,600 voters. A continued economy recovery hurts Republicans on two fronts—it deprives them of the fiscal irresponsibility argument, and it may shift attention back to social issues in an effort to re-energize the base. Both of those would bode well for Colorado Democrats in 2010.

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