Election 2020 Colorado Senate

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, and Democratic former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper elbow bump after a debate, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 in Denver. 

I saw a grizzly bear crack open a dumpster in Yellowstone one time. I'm going somewhere with this.

The can was tricked out by prisoners in Cañon City. The idea was if it could stand up to the grizzlies up there, it could handle city bears in the Colorado high country.

I described it in The Denver Post this way: "The enormous bruin towered over the can and scratched along the seams, feeling for a crack or a rivet he could claw, like a blind man reads Braille."

With a couple of tugs, that bear peeled open that double-welded bin baited with fish and peanut butter like it was a can of sardines. Bear 1, prisoners 0.

I tell you that because this election reminded me of it over and over. This bear has been coming for a long time, then voters made short work of it Tuesday.

Within a half hour of polls closing it was clear former Gov. John Hickenlooper was on his way to Washington, and Trump, who lost by 5 percentage points to Hillary Clinton four years ago would lose by 15 his second time around.

Now the Colorado GOP is in deep trouble with Gardner out of office, and the money that funds all these think tanks and advocacy groups will go to more competitive states.

The GOP is left with one statewide official: Heidi Ganahl, the University of Colorado regent at-large, and she can't run for everything if she runs for anything at all in a state crawling with liberal voters.

I can still hear the sound of the screeching steel as that grizzly got into his lunch.

Republicans can only wait until Democrats lose interest and overplay their hand, controlling every lever of state government and an ever-increasing number of the congressional delegation.

Conservation? Gardner passed the most significant public lands bill in a generation. Speaking of public lands, he ushered the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, and he's the father of a three-digit hotline for people considering suicide.

It wasn't nearly enough to hold off a voracious electorate. He couldn't shake Trump, the president who gave Space Force to Colorado Springs.

He couldn't shake his hard-to-follow health care logic on preexisting conditions: we have to take away your health care before we can give it to you. Said as President Obama might have phrased it: If you like your insurance, we're going to take it away. In the middle of a pandemic, it pays to talk straight on premiums, copay and coverage for preexisting conditions, I guess.

He couldn't shake his hypocrisy over seating a Supreme Court justice days before an election.

Like the fish in the dumpster, Gardner smelled like dinner.

Did Hickenlooper deserve to win? Not at all. This was easily the weakest campaign I've seen him run since he got in the Denver mayor's race two decades ago. They sat on a lead and we forgot the old Hick Colorado used to love.

His campaign message was built on this: whatever Chuck Schumer wants to do.

I predict here, and use my words against me: It won't last long.

Hick will be 74 years old if he runs for a second term. Time will tell if an oil-appeasing moderate like him can adequately represent a party that grows any more left-leaning than it is now.

Besides a primary challenge from a progressive woman — a tab that's past due for Colorado Democrats — here's a scenario you shouldn't rule out. 

Hickenlooper winds up in a Biden Cabinet at some point, or a coveted ambassadorship. He said he was not cut out to be a senator, and I believe him. If he rediscovers that's true, a new role for Hickenlooper is a win-win for Democrats.

I really doubt Hick treasures the idea of arguing over legislation and partisan talking points in his golden years. He never liked it as governor. That's why he urged people to work it out and get back to him.

I once heard his leadership style described as telling both sides to fight it out, so he can side with the winner. That won't work in Washington.

With Hick and the former first lady, Robin Pringle, sipping mai tais in Tahiti or wherever, Gov. Jared Polis fills the seat with Joe Neguse, his predecessor in Congressional District 2. I'll tell you what I've heard about the political cage match on the left that ensues for that congressional seat, if not the one for Senate. 

Scoff if you will, but people scoffed at me in 2015 when I was out there saying Hick vs. Gardner was coming.

Gardner will be on the ticket for governor someday, because at just 46 he has time to ride out the progressive politics of the moment. He needs Democrats to foul up, as they most certainly will, so the Republican solution seems more appealing.

He needs to play dead long enough for the dark money aligned against him to go somewhere else.

Leaving Gardner standing this year was never an option for Democrats. The trail back to the Senate majority wound through Colorado. After his presidential ambitions fizzled, Hickenlooper was handpicked by Schumer, the Senate Democratic kingmaker, despite a crowded, capable field already, to better ensure Tuesday's outcome.

The rest was politics.

You just don't get between a hungry bear and peanut butter. 

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