Republicans Gain Edge, Especially In Colorado
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
In this election year, this week will be remembered as the time some big-time Democrats bowed out. The most prominent, Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota - both decided not to run for reelection, and they're not alone. In the House, a number of Democrats are retiring, and we'll hear about two of them in a few minutes.
BLOCK: First, though, to Colorado. Yesterday, the state's Democratic governor caught almost everyone off-guard when he announced that he won't seek a second term. Bill Ritter won the governor's race easily in 2006, part a wave of Democratic victories in Colorado. But in recent months, swing voters - who also helped President Obama win the state - have started favoring the Republican Party again.
NPR's Jeff Brady has our story.
JEFF BRADY: In making his announcement, Governor Ritter offered a classic explanation: He wants to spend more time with his family.
Governor BILL RITTER (Democrat, Colorado): I would say it this way: I haven't found the proper balance where my family is concerned. I've not made them the priority that they should be.
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BRADY: Out on the snowy streets of Denver, voters were surprised and not everyone was buying it.
Mr. RICHARD MOREAU(ph): It came kind of as a shock, 'cause I don't know if he's being forced out or not, you know?
Mr. ED RABY(ph): I had no idea it was coming. Learned yesterday morning, completely surprised.
BRADY: That was Richard Moreau and Ed Raby.
Governor Ritter says he was not forced out. He says he made the decision over Christmas break and that personal matters were at the top of his mind. But speaking at the state capitol right after the governor's announcement, the head of the Republican Party in Colorado, Dick Wadhams, was not so sure.
Mr. DICK WADHAMS (Chairman, Republican Party, Colorado): The political calculation he had to make with low poll numbers and a very bad national and political environment for Democrats, I think played an even larger role in his decision, in my opinion.
BRADY: Wadhams seemed almost giddy making that observation. Look at the recent history of politics in Colorado and you can understand why. For decades, this was a solidly Republican state. Then social issues started to split the party. Democrats seized the opportunity and in the past five years, took over both U.S. Senate seats, three congressional seats, the governorship and both Houses of the state legislature.
Democrats won, not only because they appealed to the third of voters who don't belong to either party. And now, Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli says they're starting to swing back toward the GOP. At the same time, Ciruli says Republicans are uniting around an issue they all can agree on - the economy.
Mr. FLOYD CIRULI (Pollster, Colorado): They tend to get divided on social issues, but the fiscal issues are a little safer for them. And they're very united at the moment. And Democrats, quite frankly, are now a bit divided and dispirited.
BRADY: Primarily, says Ciruli, over national issues, like the war in Afghanistan and whether the health care overhaul will go far enough.
Now the big question for Democrats is who will step into the governor's race and try to reunite the party? Yesterday, the odds seemed to be on Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a rare Democrat who can appeal to rural voters. This afternoon, Salazar announced he's not running and endorsed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. He's a business-friendly Democrat who will have to prove he can broaden his appeal to keep his party in power in Colorado.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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