Colorado governor’s race ‘too close to call’

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is neck-and-neck with potential Republican challengers Tom Tancredo and Scott Gessler, according to a new Quinnipiac poll that takes an early look at the 2014 governor’s race.

The poll shows the race too close to call, with Hickenlooper ahead of Tancredo, a former U.S. congressman and controversial Republican firebrand, 42 percent to 41 percent.

His margin over Gessler, the current Colorado secretary of state, is 42 percent versus 40 percent.

Hickenlooper’s overall approval rating is down to 47 percent from a 53 percent approval reported in April by liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling.

The Quinnipiac poll has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

Hickenlooper is feeling the blowback from his decision a few weeks ago to grant an indefinite stay of execution for convicted mass murderer Nathan Dunlap, who was scheduled to die in August for a 1993 shooting massacre at a Denver Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant.

Critics called the decision cowardly in that Hickenlooper neither granted clemency nor committed to the execution, putting people on both sides of the debate into limbo. Future governors can revoke the temporary stay.

The poll also found that Coloradans favor capital punishment by a wide margin, 69 to 24 percent. By roughly the same numbers, 67 to 27, they disapprove of the governor’s temporary stay.

As recently as Wednesday, Hickenlooper continued to defend the decision, telling 850 KOA radio station that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent to crime and that it’s being phased out in countries around the world.

While this particular issue may die out or be supplanted in the many months before the election, observers have seized on the fact that Hickenlooper’s margin is so slim despite two challengers who aren’t believed to have very broad statewide appeal.

Tancredo is a lightning rod within the Republican Party, having thrown the 2010 race into turmoil when he ran as a third-party candidate. He came in second to Hickenlooper, garnering 37 percent of the vote to Hickenlooper’s 51 percent.

With a strict stance on immigration policy, even some within his own party consider Tancredo to be too extreme.

Gessler is also not widely hailed as a strong candidate — in fact, he hasn’t even officially announced that he’s running, although he suspended his re-election campaign for secretary of state and formed a committee for the governor’s race. He’s also under an active investigation by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission over alleged misuse of state funds.

The Quinnipiac poll shows that 74 percent of those polled don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

Hickenlooper’s relative weakness is shared by the state legislature, which has a Democratic majority in both chambers.

Only 36 percent of respondents approve of how the state legislature has done its job, with 49 percent expressing disapproval. Even in Democratic strongholds like Denver and Boulder, 45 percent disapprove of the legislature’s job performance and 41 percent approve.

Overall, the numbers are reflective of how hard-fought and divisive the legislative session has been, a session in which the Republican minority accused the Democrats of “over-reaching.” The state has seen nonstop controversy over a variety of issues, including gun control, new rights for illegal immigrants, civil unions and other hot-button issues.

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