For pundits, it’s hard to decide which is more fun; making pre-election predictions or reading the post-election tea leaves. This election, which included its share of surprises, was no different. Now the game turns to exactly what---if anything---the results mean for 2020.
In Colorado, a state that in recent years has hued more purplish, it appears that the things are trending a deeper shade of purple and a lighter, almost pinkish shade of red, said Dr. Rob Preuhs, head of the Political Science Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver. And that is giving Republicans the blues.
Last Tuesday, voters trekked to the polls in Colorado and a number of other states. Big issues were decided but no statewide one-on-one races were held in Colorado. Those will take place in 2020. Between now and next November, newspaper, television, radio, social media and, certainly, bumper stickers will make sure we know all about them. But already, as the song goes, ‘the nation turns its lonely eyes’ to us and the 2020 Senate race. Colorado is one of three states Democrats have their eyes on as winnable.
While not official---there are still state party conventions to be held---former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper seems to be his party’s favorite for U.S. Senate. It’s a good bet, but not a sure one. If selected, he’ll be squaring off against Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.
“Gardner has a difficult road to hoe,” said Preuhs. Gardner, who won in 2014 over incumbent Mark Udall in a close race, is caught in a tough spot. He’s wedged between an unpopular president and staying loyal to the party, said Preuhs. While Gardner seems velcroed to Trump right now---attending fundraisers and skirting controversial White House problems with doublespeak answers---he’ll employ a different tack as we move closer to the election, said Preuhs.
“Once we get into the late spring and peak election season,” predicted Preuhs, “Gardner will be trying to emphasize what had been a somewhat moderating approach to immigration. He’ll also talk to Colorado about energy, jobs and the economy.”
But in Colorado, said Preuhs, Trump remains the elephant in the room, especially with the voice of Latino voters growing louder each election cycle. By some characterizations, the President has been openly racist in remarks about Mexicans, Muslims and people of color. In a country growing more diverse each year, that is not a good tactic.
But another color is also in play in 2020, said Preuhs. “White males have essentially left the Democratic Party.” White males, said Preuhs, “do feel they have been pushed out.” Democrats, he said, have to win them back. They have to come up with fresh ideas that address things like “white males suicide rates and opioid addiction, include policies that allow for white males to prosper.”
Trump is his party’s best weapon and also its most unpredictable. While he remains strong in the South, his presence in Kentucky did not push incumbent Governor Matt Bevins across the finish line. Trump flew in the night before the election and asked voters to stand with him and Bevins. Some got the message; too many others didn’t. Bevins went down by 5,000 votes but still has not conceded.
Democrats are hoping that Trump’s presence in critical races follows the same pattern as Kentucky. “On one hand, democrats are pointing to Trump,” said the MSUD political scientist, as the best reason to vote. “He’s polarizing,” Preuhs said. But he also “has a lot of money.” And that money will be poured into states where he remains popular. “That will help mobilize his Republican base.”
Still election night proved to be just what Democrats hoped it would be. They not only won Kentucky, but they also turned Virginia---a key state come 2020---blue. They also won big in Pennsylvania, a state that is critical if they’re to retake the White House next year.
For Preuhs, politics occupy two different realities. “For many years now, we’ve had this completely polarized process. Republicans and Democrats really dislike each other. Partisan identities have become really strong and that triggers emotional reaction.”
“In the classroom politics is a little easier,” he said. Discourse is not nearly as explosive. “There is a need for empathy and respect for some other group.” People, he said, know each other as individuals and not as party loyalists.
For example, when President Trump, a popular president across the South, flew to Kentucky to push Governor Bevins over the top in a close election, the thought that victory was assured got stronger. Shockingly, Bevins lost and presidential coattails were seen as frayed.
For the next weeks and months, Congress will be occupied with impeachment. It will most certainly be one of---if not the biggest---factors in whether or not Trump wins reelection. If he is impeached, he will, as three other presidents in our history are, stained with the mark. But impeachment does not ensure conviction. But for both parties, it will become 2020’s most vocal rallying cry.