Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Two Colorado State Senators Bounced in Recall Vote

The numbers are in, and both John Morse and Angela Giron have lost their seats, making Morse the second state legislative leader to lose a seat in a recall election (the first was Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce in 2011). Morse and Giron are the 20th state legislators to lose recall elections in US history.

The Morse race was very close -- he lost 9,094 to 8,751 (50.9 to 49%) . If the turnout figures kept up from earlier in the day (where Republicans made up 39% of turnout), then independents must have broken for Morse. Just not enough independents.

Giron was a much larger victory, 19,355-15,201 (56-43.9%), and, from the pre-result coverage, more of a surprise (now, everyone is saying that it is a blue collar town, but I can assure you that wasn't the conventional wisdom before tonight -- only a few articles said otherwise). Democrats had appeared to vote in force, but that doesn't seem to have helped at all.

A couple of points:

Victory for the NRA, but is it one for the Republicans?
There's no question that Gun Rights groups scored a big win here. I mentioned that this is a symbolic recall -- the gun control law was not getting overturned and the Democrats would not lose control of the Senate. However, as a symbol, this is a big one. It may once again scare off legislators from moderate to conservative districts in the rest of the country from supporting gun control legislation. If the goal was to revisit 1994, then it is very possible that they succeeded.

The Republicans may see this victory as a sign of party resurgence, especially after a dismal decade. They may also see Governor Hickenlooper as very vulnerable. That may be more than a step too far. The impact of a recall on the state could be very limited.

Look at the two big recent recalls. Scott Walker won a decisive victory in 2012. A few months later, not only did Barack Obama win the state, but (perhaps a better indicator) Tammy Baldwin beat former Governor Tommy Thompson for the US Senate seat. A similar result after the Gray Davis recall in 2003. John Kerry easily took the state in 2004, and Barbara Boxer overwhelmingly won the Senate seat.

The reason for that phenomena may be due to...

We mentioned already that recalls frequently have a much lower turnout than regular races, especially in a special election setting. This helps the pro-recall crowd -- they have a movers advantage. You can see this as being the key to the Morse recall.  In 2010, Morse won his seat with 28,000 votes cast. Today, a little less than 18,000 votes were cast. That drop off most likely won't be repeated in 2014.

Same thing with the Giron district. In 2010, 41,648 votes were cast. This time, 34,556. Very steep drop off. It wasn't voter suppression, it was more of a natural result of a special election. Republicans may be thrilled by the results, but it is a stretch to read more into this.

In the same vein:
How safe are the recall victors?
There is a recent history of insurgents winning a seat in a recall, and then losing in the next race. You'll see this a lot on the local level. But it has also been occurring on the state level -- It happened to the winner of the Arizona recall in 2011 and with one of the two seats that faced a new vote in Wisconsin from 2011 (the third seat is up in 2014). Big time caveats -- those seats were redistricted after the election and changed significantly. But still worth noting that the recall didn't help them keep the seats.

The extra turnout and the fact that Democrats may want to target these likely winnable seats may put the two victors in a very tough election race come 2014.

More Recalls:
Already, I saw chatter of recalls on both sides of the aisle. I kind of doubt they will happen this term, but for Republicans, there is a very tempting target -- they just need to pick off one seat to gain control of the Senate. In fact, if they had been able to get the signatures for one of their other targets, they might have the seat already. Voters do not mind casting a ballot that will result in flipping the legislature. There have been four recalls (four or five if you want to count in 1995 multiple times, which we won't) that could have switched the legislature (Washington 1981, Michigan 1983, California 1995, Wisconsin 1996). All  but the one in Washington succeeded.

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