The election handicappers at Politico on Tuesday moved Colorado's U.S. Senate race from a "toss-up" toward Democrat John Hickenlooper, suggesting that Republican U.S. Cory Gardner's chances for re-election are slipping a month before ballots go out.
Polling has shown the former two-term governor maintaining a lead over the incumbent all year, though the race has tightened to single digits in recent surveys on the heels of a tougher-than-expected primary that only secured the nomination for Hickenlooper at the end of June.
A poll released last week found Hickenlooper 9 points ahead of Gardner, who trailed the Democrat by 29 percentage points among the state's largest voting bloc, voters who don't belong to either major party.
"Gardner was a star candidate who won a narrow victory six years ago, but he now faces a tougher electorate and political environment," Politico writes. "However, he is the toughest opponent yet for John Hickenlooper, who won two gubernatorial races in challenging years for Democrats."
Politico notes that Democrats have been hammering Gardner on health care, citing the Republicans' votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as Hickenlooper highlights his record creating jobs in the state in the wake of the last economic downturn. Republicans, meanwhile, have been attacking Hickenlooper over ethics issues while Gardner touts conservation legislation he co-sponsored.
The change in the Colorado race to "lean Dem" coincides with other shifts the same direction in other key Senate races by Politico, increasing the likelihood Democrats can take the majority in the chamber after the November election. In order to win the gavel, Democrats must net three or four GOP-held Senate seats, depending on which party wins the White House.
The Senate races Politico currently rates as toss-ups are all held by Republicans — Maine's Susan Collins, North Carolina's Thom Tillis, Iowa's Joni Ernst and Montana's Steve Daines.
National election forecasters Inside Elections and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball moved the Colorado race out of the toss-up column toward the Democrats earlier this year, while the Cook Political report still considers the Gardner-Hickenlooper match-up a coin flip.