COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the last few years, Democrats have done a good job turning Colorado from red to a bluish-tinge of purple.
For 20 years of presidential campaigns, 1968 to 1988, the Rocky Mountain state was a reliable Republican redoubt. Then Democrat Bill Clinton won in 1992 thanks largely to the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot — and thereafter Colorado became a true battleground state.
Republicans won the next three presidential elections, but not without serious effort. President Obama finally broke through for Democrats, carrying Colorado twice.
Not incidentally, the party's' success at the presidential level coincided with Democrats' ascendance within the state, as Dick Wadhams, one of Colorado's most astute GOP strategists, noted in a recent commentary in the Denver Post.
Since 2004, Democrats have won five straight gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats, are strong favorites to win again in 2014.
Democrats have fixed on a formula in Colorado: Paint Republican candidates as extremists, especially on social issues such as abortion. It worked for Obama in 2012. It worked for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010. And Democrats hope it will work again today as they fight to save two state lawmakers facing an unprecedented recall election tied to their support for gun control.
The lawmakers, state Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, don't shrink from their position on guns. Morse said in an interview earlier this summer he was proud of his vote for tougher regulations, including a limit on ammunition magazines and a requirement for universal background checks. If he loses his seat, Morse said, it will have been worth it.
But much of the anti-recall campaign has focused on issues other than guns, including assertions that Bernie Herpin and George Rivera, the Republicans running against Morse and Giron, are too extreme on matters relating to abortion and personal privacy. Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League are among the interest groups pressing that case with money and manpower.
Recall opponents say Herpin and Rivera would deny women contraception and even allow police to investigate cases of miscarriage.
"Your vote will protect your access to affordable birth control, which could be banned if extremists win," says one door hanger distributed here in Colorado Springs. Independent fact-checkers say the assertions are, at the very least, a reach.
There are plenty of reasons for the political purple-ing of Colorado. Perhaps the most important is the increased clout of Democratic-leaning Latino voters. And there are plenty of reasons Morse and Giron could lose their seats, including a court ruling that banned voting by mail, giving an edge to the more-motivated pro-recall forces.
But if Democrats succeed and Morse or Giron, or both, survive tonight the result will only underscore what party strategists have come to believe and Republicans like Wadhams fear: the extremist label, applied fairly or not, is politically fatal in Colorado.
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