President Obama was in Denver yesterday to praise the state’s newly-passed gun control laws. But his speech focused as much on what Congress isn’t doing in Washington as what the legislature has done here.
President Barack Obama: "I want to thank the people of Colorado for coming together in sensible ways. Let’s see if we can get the whole country to do so."
But as CPR’s Megan Verlee reports, the president’s visit also reignites a partisan debate over whether national politics are playing too strong a role in Colorado’s new gun control policies.
The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report:
Reporter Megan Verlee: The ad popping up Wednesday on the Denver Post website kind of said it all: a picture of governor John Hickenlooper in puppet form, his strings dangling from the fingers of President Obama. The message gun control opponents clearly hoped readers would take away: the president’s praise of Colorado policies is really just political meddling. Former state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams says Obama’s visit won’t sit well with a lot of voters.
Dick Wadhams: "The president coming to town to kind of rub the salt in the wound, I think, is also not very wise from the overall Democratic perspective going into 2014."
Reporter: The 2014 election may seem far off, but it’s already part of the political calculus in Colorado’s gun control fight. Many Republicans are hoping to fan anger over Washington’s role in the process, from the president’s visit to earlier calls Vice President Joe Biden made to some House Democrats right before they voted. But Republican consultant Katy Atkinson doesn’t think Coloradans automatically balk at having the president active in state politics.
Katy Atkinson (Principal, Katy Atkinson & Assoc): "A pollster friend of mine once described Colorado as a low-self-esteem state. If the attention that Colorado is getting from Washington is praise and accolades, Colorado voters may feel okay about that."
Reporter: Still, Atkinson thinks the legislation helps Republicans start to build a case for Democrats being 'too extreme for Colorado.'
Atkinson: "That is a label that the Democrats have successfully hung around the Republicans' necks. And I think the Republicans will try to use gun bills and some of the other legislation being pushed by Democrats to return the favor, frankly, in this upcoming election."
Reporter: And if that label sticks, voters could come to see Democrats as being more in tune with federal politics than with the state. Atkinson and some other political observers are doubtful the gun control package has the power to decide the fate of most of the state lawmakers up for election next year. But Democratic campaign strategist Craig Hughes thinks some on his side will have to watch out.
Craig Hughes (RBI Strategies & Research): "Certainly the rural Democrats, folks with more gun owners in their districts, probably have more attention paid to this than other issues. And I think more than anything, they need to make sure they get the message out about what is and is not in these bills."
Reporter: Republicans have to gain five House seats or three in the Senate to capture the majority in either chamber. Knocking off rural Democrats could go a long way in that effort. But House Speaker Mark Ferrandino says he’s confident his party will still be in control after 2014. And he believes the attention from Washington shouldn’t be viewed as an attempt to control Colorado policy, but quite the opposite.
Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver): "To think that there would not be national attention to what we’re doing here, and to think that the president would not have watched and been thinking about how could we get it done and how does that have implications at the national level, I think is silly."
Reporter: Ferrandino calls the gun control package a set of “Colorado solutions.” Right now those same solutions seem to be looking pretty good to the president. How good they look to Colorado voters won’t be known until the next election.