DENVER — When people talk about Boulder Congressman Jared Polis these days, they often focus on his financial backing of ballot measures that would allow local communities greater control of oil and gas drilling or on his leadership ambitions and interest in being named the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
They do not talk much about the possibility that Polis, first elected in 2008, is in danger of losing his seat in November.
But two things have happened that could make the district more competitive: redistricting has shaved five points off the Democratic voter registration advantage in Polis’s Second Congressional District, and Republicans have finally nominated a candidate, businessman George Leing, who seems to better fit the district than Polis’s previous GOP challengers.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has already named Leing to its “On the Radar” program for viable underdog candidates, and new polling from Magellan Strategies shows why.
According to the automated survey by Magellan, a conservative-leaning firm, only 37 percent of the respondents approve of the job Polis has done in Washington and only 38 percent believe he deserves reelection.
In a head to head match-up, Polis leads Leing by a 48-40 percent margin; but 64 percent of those polled had no idea who Leing was, leaving the Republican with an opportunity to make the case.
And he thinks, given that 43 percent of those surveyed believe “it s time to give someone new a chance” to represent the district, voters across the district are ready to listen.
“I’ve got a different background than a lot of other Republican candidates these voters have seen,” Leing told FOX31 Denver.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Leing has worked as an attorney in the renewable energy industry and is a conservative with a business background and libertarian streak, not a social conservative likely to turn off left-leaning unaffiliated voters in the district.
“George is a very impressive guy,” said Rob Witwer, a former GOP state lawmaker and the co-author of The Blueprint. “It remains a very tough district, but if anyone can do it, George can.”
Republicans are also optimistic about the general midterm election climate; that President Obama is under water with CD-2 voters, who give him a 45 percent approval rating in the Magellan poll, seems to underline the antipathy facing Democrats this fall.
That’s less surprising when you consider how Polis’s district changed during redistricting. It now includes some of Larimer County and a piece of Jefferson County.
The Magellan poll’s sample was 36 percent Democrats, 34 percent Republicans and 30 percent unaffiliated voters.
Polis is likely still a heavy favorite for reelection, given the district’s ongoing Democratic lean and his own personal wealth estimated to be measured in the hundreds of millions.
“He’s got unlimited resources, and ours are very limited,” said Alan Philp, a GOP consultant working with Leing’s campaign. “But Jared’s not in a great position. And George has a lot of room for growth.”
And it’s still unclear how Polis’s role as the face of the local control movement, likely to draw some $50 million in spending by the oil and gas industry in an effort to defeat his ballot measures, will affect voters this fall.
“That’s one of the big questions of the campaign,” Philp said.