If you have followed Colorado politics to any serious degree during the past three decades, you probably realize some common characteristics of this state's voters in presidential elections. For starters, we have no problem playing with both sides of the fence.
Colorado has made it a habit in the past generation to embrace the winner, Republican or Democrat. Our electorate has gone with the prevailing side in eight of the past nine presidential contests (1980 through 2012), missing only in 1996 when President Bill Clinton won his second term but narrowly lost this state (45-44 percent) to Sen. Robert Dole.
Every other time since Ronald Reagan first won his way to the White House, Colorado has gone with the victor. But the margins have been close at times, such as 2012 when Barack Obama's lopsided conquest of Mitt Romney included a difference of just 51-46 percent here.
Based on that, and the fact Colorado's voters had no problem choosing Republican Cory Gardner to unseat Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, many prominent political observers have been including Colorado among the battleground states that will decide the national outcome in 2016.
But last Friday, just hours after the Republican National Convention wrapped up in Cleveland with Donald Trump doubling down on his harshest themes, we heard a very different signal from arguably Colorado's most astute political pundit.
That would be Floyd Ciruli, a longtime fixture doing polls and analysis for the Denver Post, 9News (KUSA Channel 9) in Denver and KOA radio. Since 1985, he has headed Ciruli Associates (ciruli.com), a public policy firm providing research and consulting services. Just to confirm his credentials, Ciruli serves as director and adjunct faculty member of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver's Korbel School of International Studies. He has a law degree from Georgetown and a bachelor's in political science at UCLA, and he has a widely respected political blog at fciruli.blogspot.com.
It's safe to say Ciruli, whose credits include appearing on Fox News, doesn't play favorites. That added to the impact of the headline he posted:
"Colorado Is No Longer a Battleground State."
That's right. Even now, with more than three months of campaigning still ahead, Ciruli has made that determination. As he flatly puts it, "Nominee Donald Trump has shifted his attention to the Midwest, the Rust Belt and Northeast (early targets: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin) appealing to working and middle-class white voters."
Ciruli gives multiple reasons for that conclusion, including the bleak longshot status of County Commissioner Darryl Glenn as the Republican candidate opposing incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Ciruli says that after going with Obama in the past two elections, "Colorado became a presumed 'lean Democratic' state," adding that recent polls "confirm the presumption with Hillary Clinton up 8 points and ... Bennet ahead 18."
More from Ciruli: "Colorado is not a blue-collar, depressed manufacturing state. Its growing Hispanic and Millennial population makes it much more diverse and likely to vote Democratic." Also, he says, "The Colorado Republican Party is not Trump-friendly. Ted Cruz dominated the Republican base in the state ... [and at the GOP convention] it was the Colorado delegation that was the most obstreperous. The implications of this shift are not good for Colorado Republicans, local TV stations and people who would like to see Donald Trump between now and the election."
He didn't even mention that now-Sen. Gardner has avoided embracing Trump — even though he has endorsed Glenn.
In other words, though Trump is apparently visiting here later this week, don't count on him returning often or flooding the state's airwaves with campaign ads — actually a good thing, as many on all sides would agree.
Ciruli preceded that blunt assessment the same day with a blog that all but dismissed Glenn having any chance against Bennet, saying, "Bennet's advantage of cash on hand of $6 million to Glenn's less than $100,000 suggests a rout." And with Trump "unlikely to help," Ciruli says, "Glenn appears alone and in deep trouble."
Granted, the biggest races on Colorado's November ballot still could go different ways, and the results will depend on turnout, regardless. But you can't minimize someone with the credibility of Floyd Ciruli making such strong predictions — in July.