DENVER - Colorado gun-rights advocates, furious about last week’s signing of three hotly debated gun control bills, are launching recall drives against at least four Democratic legislators and possibly the governor.
Gov. John Hickenlooper was greeted Saturday by a crowd chanting “Recall Hickenlooper!” outside Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, where he delivered a speech at the Club 20 annual spring meeting. Recall supporters say they are studying the feasibility of such an effort.
Meanwhile, the secretary of state has approved petition language for recall drives aimed at Senate President John Morse and state Rep. Mike McLachlan, who both represent swing districts and voted in favor of the three gun control bills.
Efforts are also under way to recall state Sen. Evie Hudak and state Rep. Rhonda Fields. Both were highly visible during the gun debate: Mrs. Fields sponsored the bill limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds, while Mrs. Hudak came under criticism for arguing during a hearing with a rape victim over whether she could have protected herself with a gun.
Just as groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns gained national momentum by getting behind the Colorado bills, gun-rights supporters say they hope the political backlash will upend the tide in Colorado and other states.
“This isn’t just about Colorado - the momentum against these gun-control measures is nationwide,” said Nick Andrasik, spokesman for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund in Grand Junction, which formed to support the recall push. “Colorado is really the starting point for this. We’re the main stage in the national debate.”
Analysts agreed that gun-rights advocates have the momentum in Colorado, but cautioned that recalls can be risky. In Wisconsin, for example, foes of Republican Gov. Scott Walker tried to oust him and four state senators in a 2012 special election, but were able to knock off only one legislator.
As a result, the result was widely interpreted as a vote of confidence for Mr. Walker and his efforts to break the grip of the state’s labor unions.
“This is the problem with recalls: If they fail, they actually strengthen the incumbent politician,” said Colorado Republican strategist Dick Wadhams. “Most of the time, it’s smart to wait until the next election. But I will say that the gun control issue is very hot right now, and these recalls should be able to take advantage of the political climate.”
If the petition drives gather the required signatures, the governor would be charged with deciding when to hold the special elections. They could be scheduled for as early as August or September, although he could move it to Nov. 5 if the signatures are validated within 90 days of the regular election.
Former state Senate President John Andrews, a Republican, recommended focusing the recall on the two most vulnerable Democrats, whom he identified as Mrs. Hudak and Mr. McLachlan. Both won their seats in November by razor-thin margins.
Mr. Morse also won a narrow re-election bid in 2010 by 340 votes in a race that featured a Libertarian candidate. The least vulnerable of the four would appear to be Mrs. Fields, who won 73 percent of the vote in November and represents the Aurora district where the July 20 movie-theater massacre took place.
“If Coloradans can recall at least one state senator and one state rep over their unrepresentative and arguably unconstitutional gun control votes, it will be the most important grass-roots message since Californians recalled Gov. Gray Davis” in 2003, said Mr. Andrews, now director of the Centennial Institute in Lakewood.
So far, Democrats have said little about the still-nascent movement. Mr. Morse recently told KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs that his support for gun control is worth any political price he may pay.
“That’s why politicians around the country don’t want to stand up for this issue, but this is a political hill in my view that’s worth dying for so that we can make sure others don’t die literally at the point of a gun,” Mr. Morse said.
Mr. Wadhams warned that the grass-roots efforts should be prepared for an onslaught of outside cash from gun control proponents like New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who launched a $12 million ad blitz Monday aimed at gaining support for universal background checks for firearms purchases.
The ad campaign targets 15 U.S. senators, 10 Republicans and five Democrats, who are seen as swing votes on background checks.
“The intensity factor will work in favor of recall proponents,” Mr. Wadhams said. “But look how much money Bloomberg is willing to spend in national races, and think of how much money he could spend on four local recalls.”