As El Paso County goes, so goes the state. Or more precisely, says Hal Bidlack: If a left-leaning candidate doesn't lose too badly in El Paso County, he or she generally can win in Colorado.
"Usually if the Democratic candidate gets between 37 to 42 percent here, he wins statewide," says the El Paso County Democratic Party chairman. "Of course, that's in a two-way [race], where you assume the other guy got close to 60 [percent]. So to lead here mathematically would suggest a tremendous help towards a statewide victory."
The formula certainly proved true in 2006, when Bill Ritter lost in El Paso County 57 to 40 percent, and won the governorship by almost the same margin. President Barack Obama lost in the county 59-40 in 2008, but won the state 54-45.
So it certainly bodes well for Denver mayor John Hickenlooper to be leading the gubernatorial race in an Independent/Luce Research poll of El Paso County. With a margin of error of roughly 5 percent, Hickenlooper pulled the support of 30.2 percent of 202 likely voters. Tom Tancredo and Dan Maes took 23.3 and 22.8 percent respectively.
"If in the heart of the most Republican portion of the entire state, Hickenlooper leads," Bidlack says, "it shows that Hickenlooper's message is seen as a better message for the future than the other guys'."
That message certainly reverberates with a key section of voters. Of those describing themselves as "moderate," 40 percent supported the mayor; 39 percent were unsure; and neither Tancredo nor Maes picked up more than 8.2 percent.
In other poll questions asked last week, the topic of county Question 1A revealed that 42.8 percent of likely voters would choose not to ban medical marijuana centers in unincorporated El Paso County, 39.3 percent would, and 16.9 percent were unsure. The margin was greater (47-35 percent) when all 415 respondents were included, suggesting that 1A opponents could benefit from a good voter turnout.
"No matter what people think about medical marijuana specifically, I think people in El Paso County and Colorado Springs tend to be protective of people's rights," says City Councilor Sean Paige. "Whether their Second Amendment rights, their First Amendment rights, or their right to use and procure medical marijuana if they have a doctor's approval."
Steve Wind, leader of anti-MMJ group Let Us Vote COS, was unimpressed: "They didn't call me, OK?" he says, laughing. "As far as I'm concerned, that's a dead heat."
Lastly, Question 300 — the "strong mayor" proposal — drew considerable support from likely voters: 54.7 percent were in favor, 32.9 percent were opposed and 11.6 percent were unsure.
"I'm a little surprised, but not shocked. I think the proponents have put out an awful lot of information," says former city manager Lorne Kramer, who opposes the change. "I think some of it is misleading to the voters, but that aside, I think they've put an awful lot of money into this issue. And I think opposition has been pretty slight."
Kevin Walker, director of The Mayor Project, says the numbers are better than those of previous polls done by the campaign, but he's not celebrating yet.
"We're glad that people are getting our message," he says. "And we're excited for those results to continue on until Nov. 2."