Women. More specifically, suburban women. Most specifically, independent and Republican suburban women.
Now that we’ve made it through the primary process and have a race for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat between Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck, it looks to me like the key to victory in this year’s race will be unaffiliated and Republican women voters from the suburbs.
Over the years, many Democrats have run better in statewide races than a cursory look at voter registration numbers would seem to suggest they should. Simple analyses suggested that they’ve held their bases better than their Republican opponents and taken a majority of independent votes. But further analyses have shown that as Republican candidates have veered further to the right on social issues, more moderate Republican women in Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties have seemed to support Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.
While both Buck and his primary opponent, former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, had virtually identical positions on social issues including abortion, gender did become an issue during the primary and is likely to find its way into the general election as well. After Norton challenged his masculinity because attack ads against her were coming from outside groups instead of the Buck campaign, Buck quipped at a campaign event that people should support him because he didn’t wear high heels.
Norton made hay with the remark, and while Buck won the primary by a comfortable margin, pollsters believed the tightening of the race in its closing days had a lot to do with the high-heels comment and its resultant effects.
Look for the Bennet campaign and the independent groups that weigh into the race on his behalf to paint Buck as an extremist who will work to restrict choices for women if he is elected. How the important demographics of moderate Republican and independent women in the suburbs react may very well determine whether Bennet gets to keep his job or Buck takes his place.
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When John Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver in 2003, his quirky television ads got voters’ attention, reinforced his likable image and contributed greatly to his victory. His first gubernatorial television ad debuted last week and continued the trend. It shows him getting in and out of the shower in a variety of outfits saying that every time he sees a negative political ad, it makes him want to take a shower and that his campaign will not engage in negative advertising. It’s very effective and is likely to resonate with voters who were fatigued by the plethora of negative ads during the primary campaigns.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.