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What Colorado Voters Are Prioritizing Ahead Of November's Election


Candidates and pollsters across the country are trying to figure out what voters are thinking with an election like no other mere weeks away. Today, we begin a series of conversations with our member station reporters about what voters in the region are telling them. Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland has been hearing from a diverse group of voters there and joins us now. Bente, thanks so much for being with us.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Of course, the national news - a lot of it's been on President Trump's push to confirm a new Supreme Court justice. Is this an important issue for voters in Colorado?

BIRKELAND: It was not top of mind among the voters I talked to this week. I did go to a rally on Monday where Democratic activists were calling on Republican Senator Cory Gardner to block the president's Supreme Court nominee, which, of course, the senator has since said he would not do. But other than that, no one I spoke to said this issue was driving them or would make any difference at all in terms of how they'd vote.

I called up one Republican voter I'd recently spoken to on the phone. Her name's Amy Carlson (ph). And she said the Supreme Court was already a reason for her support of President Trump. She's also expecting the nomination fight to be similar to what happened with Brett Kavanaugh - very contentious.

AMY CARLSON: He was beaten to death by all those hearings and everything. I just don't think - it hasn't really changed anything for me.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the profile of the candidates themselves with voters. Do they have strong opinions on Donald Trump and/or Joe Biden?

BIRKELAND: Yes and no. There's an overwhelming feeling of dejectedness, not believing in the system, not trusting it's going to make their lives better. Most people have very strong opinions about the president, but for those who don't like him, no one told me they were excited about Joe Biden either.

I spoke to Mark Kaplan (ph), and he's a Democrat. And he owns a home restoration company. He said he's concerned about the economy and he's had to lay off over 90% of his 25 employees.

MARK KAPLAN: Politics - I mean, it is what it is. They have their kind of a way of misleading their own parties. I'm not going to vote this year.

BIRKELAND: And I asked him why.

Is this the first time you won't have voted?

KAPLAN: This is the first time I'm kind of like, I don't think my vote's going to matter anyway. I really don't think that.

BIRKELAND: So this hardship and sense of hopelessness seemed really central to the people I happened to talk to. Kadoranne Turner (ph) was laid off from her job when COVID-19 hit. She's 25. And she's talking about why she doesn't support President Trump.

KADORANNE TURNER: Do I really think Trump cares about anyone? Do I think anybody in this race cares? I don't because if they did, it'd be a different situation. People would not have lost their homes. People would not have lost their jobs. Minority races still don't matter because people are still dying.

BIRKELAND: And I think it is worth noting that while Turner said she doesn't support President Trump, she also hasn't seen enough of Joe Biden to really support him either. And her husband, Marvin King Jr. (ph), told me he wasn't voting at all.

SIMON: You can hear resignation in those voices. Aside from the presidential race, voters with whom you spoke - maybe a little bit more interested in local issues, including the Senate race. The polls there show former Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, of course, has a lead on Republican Senator Cory Gardner.

BIRKELAND: Most voters say they haven't made up their minds yet or they need to do more research. And they do plan to vote in that race. I've spoken to a few Democrats who don't like that Hickenlooper has these ethics violations. He had to pay fines for accepting gifts when he was governor. But Hickenlooper is still well-known, and he's well-liked by a lot of people who aren't necessarily of the political class. He was governor for eight years, and he was front and center on issues like floods and wildfires. He's a moderate.

But Gardner, despite being in the U.S. Senate for six years, he isn't as well-known. One voter did tell me they think Gardner is in lockstep with the president. That's a message Democrats will be trying to drive home in the coming weeks. President Trump did not win Colorado in 2016.

SIMON: Bente, please tell us about some of the measures that are on the ballot, also, this fall.

BIRKELAND: Well, we have about a dozen statewide ballot questions, everything from banning abortions after 22 weeks. There's a proposal to create paid family leave. Another measure would reintroduce gray wolves. And supporters are hoping to return those predators and interconnect a population of Rocky Mountain wolves that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.

SIMON: Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland, thanks so much for being with us.

BIRKELAND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia's Marketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.
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