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Why independent voters are key to winning Colorado
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Credit: PBS NewsHour

The following transcript was provided by PBS NewsHour.

Over the last four years, the number of independent voters in Colorado has shot up, making them the largest voting block in the state. As part of our ongoing series “Roads to Election 2020,” we look at the political landscape in Colorado, where the Senatorial race between two GOP leaders is also heating up. John Ferrugia, Rocky Mountain PBS Anchor and Managing Editor, joins Hari Sreenivasan.

PBS NewsHour

Why independent voters are key to winning Colorado

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Why independent voters are key to winning Colorado

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Hari Sreenivasan:

In the weeks leading up to the November election, we've been bringing you the state of play across the country as part of our "Roads to Election 2020" series. Today, we check in with the state of Colorado.

Rocky Mountain PBS Anchor and Managing Editor John Ferrugia joined us to discuss how the political races are playing out there, and how independent voters are factoring into this election.

John Ferrugia:

Colorado traditionally was always a one-third Democrat, one-third Republican, one-third independent.

In the past four years, the independents are now making up about 42% of all registered voters in Colorado; 28% are Republicans.

So when you see that and you look at 2018 and what happened in 2018 here in Colorado, independents swung totally for Democrats. So the Democrats are very confident right now that Joe Biden will do very well in Colorado because of the number of independent voters.

Hari Sreenivasan:

When it comes to the Senate race, how does that play out?

John Ferrugia:

Essentially, you have two really interesting characters in this race. John Hickenlooper was the two-term governor of Colorado. He's also the mayor of Denver. Cory Gardner, of course, is a very conservative Republican, ties himself very tightly to Donald Trump and to Mitch McConnell.

So John Hickenlooper, being this popular governor, you know, has the independents, a lot of independents on his side. And, of course, about 30% of the state is registered Democrat. So the Democrats are feeling very, very good about John Hickenlooper.

However, Hickenlooper has really been his own worst enemy. As you remember, he ran for president for a very short time. And during that time, he was asked repeatedly about running as a Senate candidate and he repeatedly said, you know, I'm not cut out to be a senator, I'd hate it, this is not what I want to do. And of course, those soundbites are playing over and over and over again in Cory Gardner's ads.

Additionally, Hickenlooper has been in this situation as governor where he violated the ethics standards of Colorado. He had taken some plane flights from donors, et cetera and he was cited for that. But he was also cited because he didn't want to testify initially and was cited for contempt. He used taxpayer money to pay for his defense. Those have been ads across the board.

On Cory Gardner's side, he's portraying himself in statewide ads as an environmentalist. And that really has flown in the face of the other ads that Democrats and his critics saying that he's voted nearly a straight ticket with the administration, with President Trump and Mitch McConnell, and voting often to lower environmental standards across the board. So it's a pretty heated debate over the Senate race and it's narrowing. John Hickenlooper had a double-digit lead in this race and now it's a single-digit lead.

Hari Sreenivasan:

How is the pandemic changed things? I mean, right now we've got some outdoor eating options in certain cities. But Colorado, those outdoor eating options, I'm imagining, are going to end by November. And you guys are a big winter tourism state.

John Ferrugia:

The economy here is kind of limping along like other places. And as you've seen over the past few weeks, the numbers of COVID cases have risen. People in Colorado are now seeing people that are sick and they know people who have been sick. And early on, maybe they didn't. So I don't know how that's going to change the dynamic. But right now, it seems very fluid in terms of, you know, people's feelings around the, you know, the COVID issue.

Hari Sreenivasan:

John, Colorado's had a long history of using mail-in ballots. Is there any concern about that?

John Ferrugia:

Yeah, I think it's really interesting in Colorado. When you talk to your neighbors and friends here, they can't figure out what this controversy is around mail-in voting. We've been doing this for years. The Republicans and Democrats alike think it works great. I mean, there isn't a hint of fraud here. This is not a controversial issue in Colorado.

And so all of this, you know, the COVID scare really, I don't think will affect voting very much at all because people are very much used to voting by mail. You know, the Governor, the Democrats, Republicans, they want people to vote. So you can drop off your ballot, you don't even have to mail it, you can drop it off at your local library, police station. You know, it's really a process that's worked for us well in Colorado.

Hari Sreenivasan:

John, right now, the country is concerned about the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. What is happening in Colorado that could have a national impact on how we think of abortion and the courts?

John Ferrugia:

There's a ballot initiative to ban abortions after 22 weeks, which is, you know, more than five months. With Amy Coney Barrett, you know, moving to the Supreme Court, this could be one of those cases that moves up and could move right into the court. And it takes on a much more national perspective now with the new Supreme Court.

Hari Sreenivasan:

John Ferrugia of Rocky Mountain, PBS, thanks so much.

John Ferrugia:

All right, thank you, Hari.

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