Quirk vs. Zeal for Colorado Governor

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Democrats surveying Colorado's gubernatorial contest between Democrat John Hickenlooper, Republican Dan Maes, and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo are probably wishing such a Republican implosion could have happened in more races across the country. During the GOP primary, Tancredo, an anti-immigration zealot who has said that the United States should bomb Mecca if ever attacked again by Islamic extremists, demanded that Maes and his opponent Scott McInnis, whose campaign derailed after evidence of plagiarism came to light, leave the race because Tancredo was more likely to be elected than they were. Incredibly, Tancredo was right. Recent polls show him with a double digit lead over Maes, but both Maes and Tancredo trail Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver.
Race of the Day
GOP leaders, particularly Colorado State Republican leader Dick Wadhams, urged Maes to leave the race after he defeated McInnis because they felt Maes neither had the character nor the fitness to hold office. They cited his belief that a bicycle program espoused by Hickenlooper was part of a grand conspiracy by the United Nations to infringe upon Colorado's sovereignty. Among a myriad of other inconsistencies, Maes also falsely claimed that he worked as an undercover police officer. Tea Party leaders and other state leaders rescinded their endorsements of him. But Maes stayed in the race, and Tancredo has started attacking him on the air, accusing him of swindling senior citizens.

No wonder Hickenlooper is adhering to James Carville's axiom of doing nothing when your opponent is self-destructing. And it seems to be working for him. In fact, Hickenlooper (whose brother is a famous Hollywood movie director) began his campaign by vowing not to run negative ads. A commercial in which he hops in the shower (literally) multiple times after viewing "attack" ads has been lauded as one of the best ads of the election cycle.

With a better candidate, the GOP could have given Hickenlooper a lot of trouble in this anti-establishment and anti-incumbent election cycle in which voters, particularly those in Colorado, are angry at Democrats and President Obama. The idiosyncratic Hickenlooper, who also owns a pub, has used his quirkiness to his advantage in the past. But compared to candidates like Maes and Tancredo, Hickenlooper comes off as rather bland (others may say competent and adult-like).

Ironically, in a year when voters seem to hate anyone who has ever been elected to anything, Hickenlooper's greatest strength will be his record as Denver's mayor. Experts and early polling indicated Hickenlooper would easily win this race. But if we have learned anything from this election cycle, it's that nothing can be taken for granted. And recent polling has shown that Maes's supporters seem to be flocking to Tancredo en masse, at least making Tancredo less of a long shot, though such numbers may also ensure that Hickenlooper's base does not fall asleep and forget to turn out to the polls.

Hickenlooper has done a good job staying on message and not making any blunders. Political pundits were hoping his lead would be insurmountable as election day neared so that they could possibly get to see a few more quirky and brilliant ads from him. Unfortunately for them, that probably won't happen.  

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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