DENVER — Colorado Democrats achieved one-party dominance in November, but now voters appear to be having a case of buyers’ remorse.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week shows Colorado voters registering greater disapproval for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Democrat-controlled legislature, following a legislative session described as the most liberal in state history.
The poll also comes after Mr. Hickenlooper’s much-criticized decision to grant an indefinite reprieve of execution to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993.
Saving Dunlap came at a high cost to the governor’s popularity. A whopping 67 percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of his decision to grant the reprieve, versus 27 percent who approve. At the same time, 69 percent of those polled said they support the state’s death penalty law, while 24 percent want to see it replaced by life without parole.
“By nearly 3-1, Colorado voters support the death penalty in their state and say where their elected officials stand on it could affect their vote,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “This could help set up a high-voltage re-election campaign where the fate of a convicted murderer could help decide the fate of an incumbent governor.”
The same survey shows Mr. Hickenlooper running neck-and-neck with two potential Republican challengers: Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who barely trail the governor in a hypothetical 2014 race.
Mr. Tancredo, who lost to Mr. Hickenlooper in 2010, trails 42 percent to 41 percent, while Mr. Gessler is behind by a 42-40 margin. A third Republican, state Sen. Greg Brophy, who represents a district in rural Colorado, trails 43 percent to 37 percent.
The poll shows 47 percent of voters approve of Mr. Hickenlooper’s job performance, versus 43 percent who disapprove. Those figures represent a drop from past polls.
“He’s always been in the 50s in terms of approval ratings. As mayor [of Denver], he was in the 60s,” Mr. Ciruli said.
Last week, Mr. Hickenlooper defended his decision to postpone the Dunlap execution in an interview on KOA-AM in Denver, saying he knew he would face a backlash but that he was convinced that the 38-year-old inmate suffers from bipolar disorder.
“Trust me, I’ve heard how many people are angry,” Mr. Hickenlooper told a caller in an interview with talk-show host Mike Rosen. “You are not alone in how upset you are. Some of my oldest friends were furious. But now they’re having that discussion.”
The Democratic legislature also came in with low marks, with 49 percent of voters polled saying they disapprove of its job performance and 36 percent saying they approve. Even in two Democratic strongholds, Boulder and Denver counties, 41 percent of those surveyed approve of the legislature’s work and 45 percent disapprove, according to the poll.
Two Democratic legislators, Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron, have been targeted for recalls since the session adjourned May 8. Recall committees turned in signatures earlier this month in an effort to force both lawmakers on a recall ballot.
If enough signatures pass muster, the recall of Mr. Morse or Ms. Giron would be the first for a state legislator in Colorado.
Two of three gun bills approved by the state legislature have been targeted by a federal lawsuit filed by 55 of the state’s 62 sheriffs, among others. On top of that, elected officials from as many as 10 rural counties are discussing whether to form a new state, North Colorado.
That movement was launched after Mr. Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 252 over the strong objections of rural lawmakers. The bill is expected to increase electricity costs by doubling the renewable-energy mandate on rural communities.
“Democrats are hugely on the defensive — they’re having to defend two recalls, a lawsuit on the gun bills, and then you have a group of eight counties talking about forming their own state,” Mr. Ciruli said. “The governor’s problem is bigger than just the death penalty. He’s also dealing with a revolt out there.”