Hickenlooper may find that convention wisdom is neither conventional nor wise in 2014

By Jeff Rundles | Nov 12, 2013

If you go back a year or so and looked at the Colorado political landscape, the conventional wisdom was that Governor John Hickenlooper – that moderate Democrat with business appeal (read: to Republicans) – was a lock for reelection in 2014, and there were intimations that he might even play a larger role in national politics come 2016. He seemed so strong that the Republican Party, or so the conventional wisdom had it, would probably not put up much 2014 opposition or, indeed, do something nuts and self-destructive like it did in 2010.

That’s the problem with conventional wisdom: it is neither universally conventional nor wise. Things change, and quickly, often as the result of hubris. What I mean is, the Democrats, having taken both houses of the Colorado legislature over the last two elections, decided that the state was decidedly Blue and pushed a pretty far out agenda, particularly on gun control. The Governor, while not an ardent supporter of the legislative agenda, nevertheless signed the bills and opened up the hornet’s nest of opposition. Couple this with his cop-out on killer Nathan Dunlap’s capital punishment sentence, and then this fall’s nearly $1 billion tax increase for schools backed by Hickenlooper failing two-to-one, and, well, the Republicans, for one of the few times in the last 40 years, have a whole host of credible, and potentially electable, candidates for governor next year.

That is, of course, assuming the Republicans can get out of their own way and not engage in – another -- destructive internecine feud. Where we saw the Democrats overreach and assume that Colorado is reliably Blue, the Republicans have shown, and are showing, a penchant for assuming that the state is reliably Red.

It’s not. Colorado has taken on a decidedly Purple hue. The trouble is, of course, that the parties themselves can’t break away from primary colors.

We see the same things nationally. After last week’s landslide reelection of Gov. Chris Christie, R-NJ, in an otherwise Democrat state, there’s been a ton of talk about his presidential aspirations and his electability. But as a reddish/purple Republican the right side of the party appears up in arms over Christie’s prospects. The perfect metaphor for all of this is litmus – blue litmus paper turns red in acidic conditions, while red litmus paper turns blue under alkaline conditions; party hacks on both side of the divide hate it when their potential candidates turn up purple. But the country is, indeed, fairly neutral, and therefor purple, in political litmus tests.

Frankly, I find all of this fascinating. I, for one, don’t think the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, is electable – especially if she runs against Christie, which is the current buzz. On the other hand, I don’t believe Christie can navigate the acidic Republican nomination process, and if the Republicans go bright red and tap someone like Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, then the prospects for Clinton, or some other liberal, rise considerably.

The potential for the same scenario to play out in Colorado is huge. By portraying Hickenlooper as ultra-liberal and very blue, the Republicans are very likely to take the opposite view and cast themselves as red as possible. Indeed, by showing the historically moderate Hickenlooper to be nothing but deep blue, they nearly force themselves to eschew anything resembling purple. With the Republicans thus boxed in, the Governor’s prospects for claiming purple-ness, and victory, rise.

Personally, I’m purple. I have good friends on both sides of the litmus tests, and it’s interesting to see how much they all just assume that “reasonable, sane” people agree with them. Their conventional wisdom is that they are right and others are wrong. Period.

That may be conventional these days, but clearly it isn’t wise. It’s all going to be fun to watch.