Colorado political observers are focused less on whether Donald Trump could win the state, which they see as increasingly unlikely, and more on whether the GOP presidential nominee’s presence on the ballot will lead to a Democratic takeover of Colorado’s legislature.
Democrats control Colorado’s house and governor’s office. They need one seat to take the reins of the state senate, and therein the whole state legislature–assuming the party maintains its three-seat house majority in November.
The Republican running in what’s widely seen as Colorado’s closest senate race is state Sen. Laura Woods (Westminster), who told the Colorado Statesman in August that Trump is the “people’s candidate” and that she was “not considering running away from him.” A group opposing Woods’ reelection tied the Republican lawmaker to Trump in a recent mailer.
Woods, who faces Democrat Rachel Zenzinger in the contest to represent northwest Denver Senate District 19, has been clear about her support for Trump since January, when she called the billionaire one of her two favorite presidential candidates.
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At issue is how such unabashed support for Trump will play in her swing district, almost evenly divided between Democratic, Republican, and unaffiliated voters, in a state where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appears headed to victory.
The website FiveThirtyEight, which predicts election outcomes based on aggregate polling data, puts the chances of Clinton winning the state at 81.5 percent. That’s based on 39 polls.
Asked on MSNBC in late September if she was confident Clinton would carry Colorado, Jill Hanauer of Project New America, a polling and research firm, said, “I am very comfortable that it’s hers to lose.”
Will Trump’s unpopularity in Colorado trickle down to the critical state senate race between Woods and Zenzinger?
“If the opposition is using her continued support for Trump strategically, in trying to target people they think are moveable, then it could make a difference,” Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer told Rewire.
Straayer pointed out that Democrats in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District are using a television ad featuring Trump to campaign against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora).
Communications tactics in state legislative races, Straayer said, are more under the radar, with an emphasis on door-to-door canvassing and mail and digital advertising.
One such mailer, received by a resident of state senate district 19, depicts a photo of Trump, placed in front of an image of Woods, along with Woods’ quote declaring Trump the “people’s candidate.”
Below the picture is the text of Trump’s statement, “’They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’—Donald Trump speaking about Mexican immigrants to the U.S.”
The reverse side of the mailer reads, in part, “Just like Donald Trump, Laura Woods is completely out of touch with our community .… Our environment, our economy and our community are too important to let Donald Trump and Laura Woods represent us.”
Conservation Colorado Victory Fund paid for the mailer, according to copy printed on the ad, apparently as part of a six-figure effort to oust Woods announced last month.
The Fund spent about $195,000 during the last week in September on various races in Colorado, including more than $11,000 on the Woods-Zenzinger race, according to campaign finance records. A Fund spokesperson declined Rewire’s offer to comment.
Judging from recent elections, Straayer predicted that Woods’ race will be “razor-tight close.” In 2014 Woods won the seat by 663 votes. This means that even a small backlash against Trump could potentially swing the race, Straayer said.
Woods, who did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment, has called herself an “independent thinker.” On the issues, she aligns with Trump, among other ways, in opposing abortion rights and in taking a hard line on immigration.
“I have met a lot of people who are going to vote a split ticket this year,” Woods said in a September 17 interview on KNUS 710-AM. “It’s really interesting as I knock on doors, the comments and conversations that I have about the presidential election. And Trump has a lot of support in [Woods’] Senate District 19, which is interesting.”
Colorado’s legislature is one of a handful nationally that may fall into Democratic Party hands, in part due to local voters’ aversion to Trump and the policies he supports.