DENVER–If Colorado Democrats are forced to choose between salvaging the political careers of recall targets Angela Giron or John Morse, analysts say the choice is clear: Save Giron.
Signatures on recall petitions for both Democratic state senators are now being validated by the Secretary of State’s office, but if their names do land on the ballot, there’s little doubt among politicos that Giron is better positioned to hang onto her job than is Morse.
“She will become the major figure in Colorado to save,” said Ciruli. “She’s already got a significant reputation–she was the leading figure behind the fight for Hispanic students going to college [the ASSET bill]–and she’s well connected in Pueblo.”
Giron was elected by a comfortable margin of 55 to 45 percentage points in 2010, while Morse looks increasingly vulnerable in a district he won by just 340 votes. Morse is also term-limited in 2014, meaning that he has only one more legislative session remaining.
Speculation is already rampant that Morse may resign and allow a Democratic vacancy committee to appoint a successor. So far Morse has insisted that he will fight to save his seat, but that was before organizers put the Giron seat into play Monday by submitting more than 13,000 petition signatures.
The prospect of a Giron recall forces Democrats to weigh the costs and benefits of trying to fight a battle on two fronts rather than one.
“The amount of money that would have to be expended for Morse makes it a much closer calculation, and it may not be worth it,” said Ciruli. “There’s very little upside. It would be a long war, and it’s in very bad terrain.”
Chief among Morse’s liabilities is location: He won his seat in conservative El Paso County thanks to a favorably drawn district and infighting among Republicans, but his highly visible support for a package of gun-control bills has increasingly united the opposition.
“Morse made himself a bigger target by being more aggressive on these gun bills than he needed to be,” said Ciruli.
Democrats would prefer to beat back both recalls rather than see either candidate resign, but analysts agree that an embarrassing resignation would be preferable to a ballot defeat. If Morse did step down, a Democratic vacancy committee would appoint a replacement, allowing the party to keep the seat.
Democrats have indicated that they plan to challenge signatures in the Morse recall, a laborious process that would involve contacting individual signers and asking if they knew what they were signing or if they felt intimidated. The party would have two weeks to contest signatures if enough are validated to force a recall.
“The strategy for Morse is so time-intensive that I don’t see how they can do it for both [recalls],” said Denver Republican strategist Katy Atkinson. “Checking every single signature, paying a visit to everyone who signed–I don’t think they can do that in two districts, so they may have to choose.”
Atkinson added that the pressure on Morse to resign could become intense. “The Senate President is not going to be popular if he tries to save himself at the expense of someone else in his caucus,” she said.
Top Morse aide Kjersten Forseth acknowledged to the Denver Post that resignation was an option, and that “decisions are happening non-stop in a recall.” Other Democrats insist that both seats can be successfully defended.
So far Morse and Giron have the cash advantage over their opponents. Both Democrats have received nearly identical contributions from three pro-Democrat groups: $35,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund in Washington and $15,000 from Mainstream Colorado in Denver. The third group, Citizens for Integrity in Denver, gave $25,000 to Morse and $20,000 to Giron.
“We don’t see this as either/or,” said Dan Roth, spokesman for the Democratic Leadership Campaign Committee in Washington, an independent 527 group backing Giron and Morse. “I honestly think both can be successfully defended, once voters become aware of their records on a whole host of other issues.”