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Ciruli Associates Poll

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Struggles at Halfway Point in First Term

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli
July 22, 2008

Democrats are hoping that the West will be fertile ground in this November’s election for their presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama and congressional and U.S. Senate candidates.  Colorado, in particular, is seen as a battleground.  And, indeed, the Rasmussen and Quinnipiac July polls show that Obama is ahead by 3 to 5 percentage points.

Surprisingly, new Democratic Governor Bill Ritter may be in trouble.  When compared to his Montana counterpart, Governor Brian Schweitzer, in recent Rasmussen polls Ritter’s job rating lags behind Schweitzer by 19 points.  Only 45 percent of Colorado voters gave Ritter an excellent or good job rating, whereas 64 percent of Montanans rated Schweitzer as doing an excellent or good job.

Rasmussen Polls
Colorado and Montana

Performance Rating

Gov. Ritter-CO

Gov. Schweitzer-MT








N500 likely voters
June 19, 2008
(±4.5 percentage points)

N500 likely voters
July 1, 2008

The Rasmussen poll uses an automated response technique that is questioned in some professional quarters, but it produced presidential and senate race results in Colorado comparable to other polls using more traditional interviewing techniques.

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Ritter’s 2006 election was the latest in a series of across-the-board victories for Colorado Democrats – from the state legislature to U.S. Congress to the U.S. Senate.  But a spate of recent political missteps has dogged Ritter in 2008.

The Governor’s poor job performance is at least partially a reflection of growing criticism about many unfulfilled expectations – most of which he raised – and his association with controversial or thwarted initiatives.

  • He created transportation and health care panels that recommended significant new programs, but produced minor legislative and policy changes and little new money.

  • He froze property tax rates, which would have dropped and directed excess funds to favored programs.  A lower court has ruled Ritter’s action unconstitutional and the ruling is under appeal.

  • He has proposed raising the mineral severance tax, but the increase has only weak support from key constituencies and powerful opposition from oil and gas interests and drilling boom towns.  Also, he has proposed strict environmental rules on oil and gas drilling and is getting considerable political resistance.

  • He is in a peculiar fight with his former gubernatorial campaign manager over financial issues.  Both civil and criminal violations are being investigated.

  • And, most unexpectedly, Ritter unionized state employees, unleashing an onslaught of criticism from business and editorial pages – especially the Denver Post, usually the state’s main liberal paper.  His action contributed to a labor/business ballot war involving “right to work” and other labor-oriented initiatives in the upcoming November election.

Although many of Ritter’s problems could be resolved in his favor, he is at risk.  Fortunately for Ritter, the intense presidential race and upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver are diverting local attention away from his trials.  But, after the expected Democratic surge in November recedes, Ritter may be in for a period of considerable criticism.  Republicans, desperate for some glint of success, are likely to pursue a full attack.

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Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research firm providing polling, election analysis and political commentary to Colorado and national media organizations since 1976.

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