DENVER — Just a few months ago, most political insiders expected Colorado’s affable brew-pub Governor John Hickenlooper to coast to another four years in the Governor’s Mansion. But observers on both sides of the aisle now see the opportunity for a Republican challenger to oust the first-term Democrat.
Last week, Hickenlooper touted ballot measure Initiative 22, a controversial $1 billion income tax hike, as an investment in Colorado’s future, saying he knows “no better… economic development we could do.”
But unemployment rose for the second straight month in July, hitting 7.1 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, prompting critics to argue that the Governor is out of touch with the needs of the struggling middle class, and that the unpopular tax hike proposal could further destabilize an already shaky economy.
“With unemployment rising yet again in Colorado, it is clear that now is not the time for a billion dollar tax increase that burdens Colorado’s already struggling families,” said Kelly Maher, Compass Colorado’s Executive Director. “If tax hike proponents really cared about the education of Colorado’s kids, they wouldn’t be pushing a punitive tax increase while ignoring the real reforms that are needed to provide the world class education Colorado’s children deserve.”
The tax hike is the latest potential problem facing Hickenlooper, whose poll numbers have declined since he blocked the execution of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap. One recent survey revealed that nearly 70 percent of Coloradans disagreed with Hickenlooper’s decision to grant the murderer a reprieve.
“Hickenlooper is certainly under more pressure having fallen from the untouchable heights of his first few years in office,” wrote Scott Bland of National Journal.
Many moderate voters also feel they were duped by Hickenlooper, who ran as a centrist, but signed several controversial bills this year, including a number of far-reaching gun control measures that triggered recall drives against two Democrat state legislators. The recalls are the first of their kind in state history.
Those poor economic indicators, the Dunlap reprieve, and Hickenlooper’s failure to provide a check-and-balance against the far-left agenda of the Democrat-led legislature have political handicappers wondering if the governor will be able to beat back a growing field of gubernatorial rivals.
In June, Quinnipiac published a poll showing the governor and Republican challenger Tom Tancredo essentially neck-and-neck, with Hickenlooper leading the conservative former Congressman by a slim 42 percent to 41 percent margin.
The survey also revealed that Hickenlooper’s disapproval rating had jumped to 43 percent, a steep increase from September 2012 when the Denver Post found the Governor with a disapproval rating of just 24 percent.
Hickenlooper, however, has brushed off the dip in popularity, telling the Washington Post earlier this month, “If I lose, I go back to 14 weeks of vacation.”
In addition to Tancredo, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and GOP state Senator Greg Brophy of Wray are also mounting challenges to Hickenlooper, and observers speculate that Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler and former Jefferson County lawmaker Mike Kopp may enter the Republican field as well.
Brauchler has questioned the Governor’s leadership in recent weeks, referring to Hickenlooper as the “state bartender.”
The prosecutor has also been relentless in his criticism of Hickenlooper’s decision to block Dunlap’s execution.
“I’m very comfortable in the role of being a constant reminder of the injustice and the indecision and the weak leadership that Gov. Hickenlooper displayed in this Dunlap case and other matters,” Brauchler told The Daily Caller this week. “I am happy to be a reminder to the public of that.”