The Quantity of Candidates Isn’t Nearly as Important as their Quality

Some candidates are thinking of running against Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper next year. Does that spell danger for him? Republicans seem to think so:

At least five candidates are officially challenging Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014 and another three are mulling whether to jump in the race.

That so many are choosing to challenge the popular governor is, Republicans contend, a sign that a Democrat who once seemed invincible is vulnerable.

Well, that could be a sign that Hickenlooper is vulnerable, but only if the five candidates already in the race were remotely threatening to him. Yet as the Denver Post notes, they’re really not a very impressive crew. Three of them are unaffiliated with a major party. No offense to independents and libertarians, but those folks tend to not do very well in statewide elections. One of them is a Republican described as “starting” a telecommunications business whose main credential is that he doesn’t like Hickenlooper’s stance on gun control.

The final candidate is Steve Laffey, the former mayor of Cranston, RI, whose last political claim to fame was losing the 2006 Rhode Island Republican Senate primary to Lincoln Chaffee. He moved to Fort Collins in 2010. Now, someone who has actually won a mayoral race — twice — should be taken seriously as a candidate, but the fact that he last won a race nine years ago, in a city of 80,000 people, in another state, suggests that he may not be keeping Hickenlooper up at night.

The other potential candidates mentioned in the article are more serious. State Sen. Greg Brophy and Secretary of State Scott Gessler could mount significant challenges to the Governor, and while Tom Tancredo couldn’t defeat Hickenlooper on his own, his involvement in an election tends to bring chaos in its wake. But the fact that these candidates are potential candidates is significant. It means that they’re more experienced politicians who think strategically about their careers, and they don’t want to be humiliated in a landslide. (Hickenlooper has a 53% approval rating.)

So, yes, there are some people planning to run against Hickenlooper, but that’s the case for basically anyone running for re-election as governor. Only when other ambitious politicians who have something to lose start running against him should he begin to worry.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.