MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This week we're checking in on some close governor's races around the country, and today we'll hear from the purple state of Colorado. Polls show the Democratic incumbent, John Hickenlooper, essentially tied with his Republican challenger, Congressman Bob Beauprez. John Frank is covering the race for The Denver Post. Hi, John.
JOHN FRANK: Hi, how are you?
BLOCK: I'm good. And John Hickenlooper won the governor's seat there in Colorado four years ago by nearly 14 points. It was a three-way race. Why is he in trouble now?
FRANK: This is the first real test Hickenlooper has faced. That last race, he cruised to victory. And he became one of the most popular governors in the nation in between, and he was considered a possible vice presidential candidate. And now he's fighting for his political life. What made him attractive - that quirky, independent sheen - has faded as, you know, he's had to govern and dealt with a number of controversial issues.
BLOCK: What are some of those controversial issues?
FRANK: One of the major issues was guns from the 2013 legislative session. And this Democratic legislature really pushed him maybe further than he wanted to go to support universal background checks and magazine limits. You know, this of course all came in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting. And Hickenlooper actually stumbled on the campaign trail recently, telling the sheriffs that he screwed up on that legislation. So where he actually stood on it and why he signed it in the first place - you know, those all came back to haunt him here in the campaign.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about one theme in ads that are running for the Republican Bob Beauprez, and that is public safety. There's one ad. It shows a nice house in the dark of night and there's text about criminals being released from prison and leisure time proposed for death-row murderers, and it ends this way.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: With John Hickenlooper as governor, is your family safe?
BLOCK: John, who's being targeted with ads like this about family safety?
FRANK: Beauprez is going after particularly women in this case, trying to instill a little bit of fear in this race. A scary ad like this - that's generating a lot of controversy because it is so negative and broke his positive campaign pledge. But he's also getting a boost among men, we're seeing, in some early polling since this ad started running that are moving much more toward Beauprez.
BLOCK: Well, let's listen to an ad that's running on behalf of Governor Hickenlooper - and this one, clearly targeting women voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #2: We can't give Bob Beauprez the power to be governor. Beauprez threatened to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
BLOCK: Now, John, we should mention there's also a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Colorado, the Personhood Initiative, which could play into this.
FRANK: Exactly. This is the third time they're trying to push personhood in Colorado, and Beauprez is actually against that ballot initiative. He says it goes too far. But Beauprez is a staunch conservative, particularly when it comes to abortion issues. He calls himself strongly pro-life. And his past statements on this are coming back to haunt him, though he's tried to take a more moderate approach in this campaign because women voters matter, and they'll probably decide the outcome of this election.
BLOCK: What other issues seem to be on voters' minds this year in Colorado?
FRANK: The death penalty is certainly an issue that's come up a good bit after Governor Hickenlooper granted an indefinite reprieve to a convicted murderer on death row. Now, the Republican candidate said he would lift that reprieve and execute Nathan Dunlap. And it's a larger issue that's really permeating the campaign and actually taking the oxygen out of Hickenlooper's broader message, which is the economy is thriving. Things are going well here in Colorado.
BLOCK: John Frank is political reporter with The Denver Post. John, thanks very much.
FRANK: It was my pleasure.