Colorado Senate Race, 2010
In 2010, Project New America played a key role in the strategy that led to Senator Michael Bennet’s narrow reelection victory in Colorado. This effort was a prime example of how PNA's role as a strategic hub eliminated redundancies and provided for an efficient messaging effort across several different mediums.
Heading into 2010, Colorado was shaping up as a key Senate battleground. As an intense Republican primary battle wore on into the summer of 2010, initial PNA research around the Personhood ballot measure in Colorado indicated that women’s health issues could be an important electoral issue, specifically that opposition to Personhood was the most likely issue to increase turnout among key progressive voters, a key challenge in 2010. The research also showed that a significant number of independent voters were turned off by candidates who supported the measure. This was particularly true among women in suburban Denver.
July 2010 – As Ken Buck rises, background research commences. Buck makes unfortunate comments about opponent Jane Norton’s “high heels," leading to reservations about his candidacy among moderate women
Further messaging research conducted around women’s health issues as part of our Reframing Reproductive Rights research in 2010 shed light on voters’ complex views toward women’s health policy and abortion. From that research, we learned that a strong majority of voters—even those who identify as “pro-life”—think that women’s health decisions are highly personal, and feel strongly that they should be left to individual women and their families, not the government.
As the Republican primaries approached, it was becoming clear that Ken Buck, a Tea Party-backed upstart, was poised to secure the GOP nomination. As Buck surged toward the general election, PNA began refining messages around women’s health and the Senate race.
By late summer, independent groups in Colorado, armed with PNA’s messaging and research, had coalesced around an effective strategy of framing Buck as insensitive to women’s issues.
Independent political organizations publicized a series of blunders on Buck’s part, including an incident in which he asserted voters should choose him because he “does not wear high heels.”
After Buck secured the nomination, Michael Bennet’s campaign focused on the GOP nominee’s support for Personhood, using language that dovetailed with PNA’s Reframing Reproductive Rights research. In a prominently-placed ad, a Denver-area OB/GYN said she was disturbed by Ken Buck’s stances in favor of banning abortion and common forms of birth control. “That should be a woman’s decision,” she said. (Below)
In a debate, Bennet echoed that sentiment, saying he didn’t think “the government has any business… [in] these incredibly painful decisions that ought to be made by a woman with her family and with her clergy.”
Meanwhile, independent groups in Colorado continued to hammer Buck for saying a rape victim had a case of “buyer’s remorse” and for likening homosexuality to alcoholism, further cementing his extremist social views in the minds of voters.
The effect of this targeted effort was evident in November, when Bennet defied expectations and won a narrow victory behind a double-digit lead among women. The campaign strategy that lifted Bennet to victory in 2010 has since been emulated, and held up as a model for candidates running against extremist candidates.