Straw Polls

As part of the caucus process this year, both Democrats and Republicans in Colorado included a non-binding straw poll, essentially a test of grass roots strength among the candidates. Not surprisingly, the activitst-friendly candidates did well. Andrew Romanoff took about 50% of the vote to Senator Bennet’s 41% on the Democratic side. For the Republicans, Dan Maes got 40% of the vote to Scott McInnis’s 60%, which will probably be interpretes as a win for Maes, and Ken Buck barely edged out Jane Norton by 25 votes, which will certainly be considered a win for him.

How much does it matter? It’s hard to say. On the Democrat side, it may help boost Romanoff’s heretofore anemic fundraising. I have no insight as to whether or not folks were electing delegates based on their Senate preferances, though. For the Republicans, I suspect there’s a strong correlation between not supporting Jane Norton and supporting Dan Maes. This matters, because for the most part, people didn’t have to choose between delegates for Senate and delegates for Governor. It means that if Maes decided to continue on after convention (assuming he can’t make up the difference), he’ll go in as an underdog, but not a massive one. And it says that McInnis still faces significant discontent within his own party.

This suggests that the Colorado governor’s race is beginning to look a little like last year’s Presidential race. Hickenlooper is playing the part of Obama, positioning himself as a reasonable moderate, atlhough he’s actually quite liberal. McInnis is playing the part of McCain, the presumptive nominee that the party really doesn’t quite buy as being conservative enough. For all his harping on “unity,” McInnis is going to find that line increasingly irrelevant. And Dan Maes is playing the role of The Field: in addition to his own support, he’s picking up the protest vote against McInnis.

This doesn’t mean that things will play out the same way at all. Obama was running with a favorable political environment, Hickenlooper has to overcome the current distrust of the Democrats. McInnis is certainly more conservative than McCain. And Maes is a single individual, meaning that someone who votes for him is less likely to switch to McInnis down the line, if there’s a primary.

As for the Senate race, Tom Wiens and Cleve Tidwell were both banking on a strong showing at caucus, and didn’t get it. Fairly or unfairly, the race really narrows down to two candidates, and the question is whether or not, at or after state convention, Wiens’s and Tidwell’s supporters will split up or coalesce behind Buck. And while Norton has worked hard to court the activists and the Tea Partiers, it may not be enough this year.

Of course, there’s no real precedent for correlating straw poll support with election performance. In 2008, the only straw poll was at the presidential level, and Romney, the winner in Colorado, dropped out a few days later. The straw poll results will almost certainly correlate more strongly with County Assembly results – and thus with State Convention results – than with the broader party electorate in a primary. And a lot can happen at County. A disciplined voting bloc can win a disproportionate number of delegates.

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