When I last talked to Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli, he was virtually certain of Barack Obama’s victory this fall. But now, after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan to be his running mate, Ciruli thinks the former Massachusetts governor might have a shot—especially when it comes to carrying the Centennial State’s electorate.
To Ciruli, Ryan is a youngish family man with an athletic streak. He’s climbed nearly 40 of Colorado’s highest peaks, and he’s perceived as familiar with the state. In many ways, Ciruli says, Ryan looks like the generic Front Range suburban voter. And, for the GOP, that’s a good thing.
Ciruli talked about Ryan—and the Republican chances in Colorado—in an interview with 5280 on Tuesday. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
5280: Paul Ryan appeals to the Republicans’ conservative base. But how does his vice-presidential bid play among Colorado’s independent voters?
Floyd Ciruli: For independents, you need some excitement, something that gets their attention. I think he does that. You’re hearing more talk about how Social Security will end in X number of years, and that we can’t keep going like this with Medicare. That’s the kind of drama that gets independents interested.
In general, independents get engaged slowly and late, so this is where you have to break through. They’re non-partisan, and they want solutions. They liked Obama four years ago because he was not the establishment; they thought he’d shake things up. He got a large majority from that. But now they’re disenchanted. They’re searching.
Do the Republicans have a candidate in Ryan who can break through and who has a message of “I’m going to get something done?” Independents are outcome-oriented. They don’t care who does it. They just want it fixed.
Democrats are already labeling [Ryan] as too extreme. They’ll say he’s not humane enough, not fair. I think the Republicans are in the game, though. In the first of August, I didn’t think they were breaking through with independents. Now, things might change.
5280: It would seem that Ryan appeals to a pretty important Colorado demographic.
FC: I think so. We’re mostly a national electorate, and Ryan is a comfortable Midwesterner, a young person, a strong recreationist, an exercise aficionado, a climber. All those things appeal to our demographic. That’s what Republicans want here. He’s going to appeal in the suburbs. He’ll appeal to families, to people between the ages of 35 to 44. That’s the target audience: our suburbs. Ryan is perfect for that.
5280: Perhaps he extends that reach to Fort Collins and Grand Junction?
FC: That’s totally right. We talk about our suburbs because of the media market, but Ryan would have appeal across the entire Front Range and Grand Junction.
5280: What is Ryan’s weakness here?
FC: I think the problem will be that he’s very socially conservative. Remember that’s what saved Michael Bennet in the 2010 senate election—he portrayed Ken Buck as too socially conservative. So far, we’ve seen the emphasis on fiscal issues, but [the social aspect] is there for Ryan. Because of what happened here in 2010, that’s one thing Republicans have to be cautious about. Those same suburban independents are pretty mainstream, in terms of their social values. If you’re seen as either too liberal or too conservative, that could be an issue.
5280: And, since we’re a swing state, I’m sure we’ll get to hear more from Ryan before the election.
FC: We’ve already seen him here for a fundraising visit and a rally. All the candidates will be here constantly [after the conventions]. In reality, Colorado might have 100,000 people out of millions of voters who haven’t made up their minds but will get all the attention. Of course, the parties will check their base, but the number one reason those candidates will be here is to tap those undecided people.