DENVER (AP) — Colorado voters overwhelmingly back the death penalty and are evenly split on whether Gov. John Hickenlooper, who last month blocked the execution of a convicted multiple-murderer, deserves re-election, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The Quinnipiac University poll said that 69 percent of the state’s voters think the death penalty should stay on the books while 24 percent want it replaced by life in prison without parole.

The split is almost identical for those who disapprove of Hickenlooper’s decision to grant an indefinite reprieve to Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese in 1993 and was due to be executed in August. Nearly three-quarters of voters said the issue would be “very important” or “somewhat important” in their vote next year.

Voters are divided, 45 percent to 44 percent, over whether Hickenlooper, a Democrat, deserves re-election. He narrowly leads his lone declared challenger, former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, 42-41. The poll suggested a tight race against other possible Republican challengers like Secretary of State Scott Gessler, whom Hickenlooper led 42-40, and state Sen. Greg Brophy, whom the governor leads 43-37.

“By nearly 3-1, Colorado voters support the death penalty in their state and say where their elected officials stand on it could affect their vote,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “This could set up a high-voltage re-election campaign where the fate of a convicted murderer could help decide the fate of an incumbent governor.”

Hickenlooper was a rare Democrat elected during the Republican wave year of 2010, and has positioned himself as a nonpartisan centrist. But he ended up in an increasingly partisan corner after Democrats retook the statehouse in November and muscled through a number of contentious measures, including a package of new gun control laws. That could be taking a toll on Hickenlooper’s ratings. The poll said 49 percent of voters disapprove of the Legislature and only 36 percent approve.

Democrats have won the past three gubernatorial elections in Colorado. The state remains evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents. Republicans and independents overwhelmingly support the death penalty, by 87-11 and 73-21 margins, respectively, the poll suggested. Democrats support it more narrowly, 49-41.

The poll indicated voters narrowly approve of Hickenlooper’s performance as governor, 47 percent to 43 percent. But the governor is struggling with independents. Only 44 percent approve while 47 percent disapprove.

The poll of 1,065 registered voters was taken from June 5-11 with live telephone interviews on landlines and cellphones. It has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

By AP Writer Nicholas Riccardi (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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