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Rocky Mountain Surprise

Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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When it was announced earlier this year that gun rights activists were attempting to recall two Colorado state senators for helping pass new gun control laws, the campaign wasn’t taken seriously. It was treated as a marginal curiosity by the political press, when it wasn’t ignored altogether. But as the recall drew near, the nerves of local Democrats were obviously frayed—for good reason.


Last week, Senator Angela Giron was recalled by a 12-point margin, and senate president John Morse, a former police officer, was recalled by a slimmer 2-point margin. This represents a stunning success for the activists who ran a grassroots campaign and were outspent six to one, with nearly $3 million flooding in from national gun control groups. (Remember, swamping local elections with campaign cash from out-of-state special interests is only evil when it’s not in the service of liberal hobbyhorses.) In fact, $300,000 was personally donated by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Just so we’re clear how humiliating this is for Bloomberg, Giron told the New Republic last month, “For [Bloomberg’s gun control organization] Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up.”

Shellshocked Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who not too long ago was being talked up as a dark horse presidential candidate, gave a press conference where he actually tried to backtrack on his support for the state gun control laws, unconvincingly claiming he was never, ahem, “fired up” about the part of the law limiting magazine and clip capacities. 

The media, of course, have been relatively subdued in their coverage of this hugely embarrassing rebuke. Dismissals of the recall’s impact in the Wall Street Journal, AP, and the New York Times ranged from “mostly symbolic” to “purely symbolic.” But there’s no debating which side of the debate is the political loser. According to the New Republic, one gun control group even “got 200 members nationwide to make 10 calls each to the two districts. That’s impressive, given how hard it’s been to stir grassroots activism on the gun control side.” If that’s “impressive” progress for gun control advocates, their legislative efforts are dead, dead, dead for the foreseeable future.

But wait, there’s more! Along with the hopes and dreams of Bloombergian busybodies, the Colorado recall may have destroyed the reputation of America’s most obnoxious political polling outfit. The day after the recall, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) announced that it actually had poll results from the previous week predicting Giron’s 12-point margin of defeat. However, the firm had spiked releasing the results because it didn’t believe them. 

Now, PPP has long been reviled by conservatives for using obnoxious questions in its polling calls designed to make Republicans look bad. And then there’s the well-founded speculation the firm puts its thumb on the scale for partisan ends. Last year, PPP produced a well-timed poll showing suspiciously high levels of support for Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin in the wake of his scandalous rape comment. PPP’s poll may have helped convince him to stay in the race, bolstering the Democratic “war on women” campaign theme. 

Despite this, PPP’s presidential polling last year was pretty accurate, so few pointed questions had been asked about its dodgy methodology. Attempting to take credit for the Colorado recall poll it suppressed was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Polling guru Nate Silver tweeted, “VERY bad and unscientific practice for [PPP] to suppress a polling result they didn’t believe/didn’t like. .  .  . I’m especially skeptical when a pollster puts its finger on the scale in a way that matches its partisan views.” The next day, Nate Cohn of the New Republic released a convincing, data-heavy article arguing “There’s Something Wrong With America’s Premier Liberal Pollster.” Silver and Cohn have made it hard to see PPP as anything other than a partisan and unethical operation. And the two deserve credit for speaking out, given their own liberal leanings. 

The Scrapbook generally advises being gracious in victory. But given the joint comeuppance delivered to Bloomberg and PPP, readers will be forgiven a chortle or two.

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