DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper holds a comfortable lead over his potential Republican challengers, and 52 percent of Colorado voters approve of his job performance, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Quinnipiac University Poll found that voters were split 45 percent to 45 percent on whether the governor deserves re-election but preferred him by margins of six points or higher against the Republicans vying for the chance to face him in November.

“It’s a fairly comfortable lead,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. “The governor’s pretty popular.”

Voters gave Hickenlooper high marks on leadership and his handling of the economy. They disagreed with his stance on guns and the death penalty. Hickenlooper suspended the death sentence of an inmate due to be executed last year.

By a 52-43 margin, voters said they disapproved of a gun control package that Hickenlooper signed last year. They overwhelmingly backed universal background checks by an 86-13 margin and more narrowly supported a ban on high-capacity magazines, 50-47.

Colorado voters also favored arming teachers to prevent violence in schools by a 50-45 margin.

Polls last year showed the governor’s approval ratings sagging in the wake of the new gun laws but the latest survey shows him handily ahead of his rivals in head to head matchups.

Hickenlooper bested former Rep. Tom Tancredo in the poll, 48 percent to 39 percent; Secretary of State Scott Gessler, 46 percent to 40 percent; State Sen. Greg Brophy, 47 percent to 37 percent, and State Sen. Mike Kopp, 47 percent to 38 percent.

“They have not moved up on him at all and he’s actually improved a fairly good margin in the last year or so,” Malloy said.

The poll of 1,139 voters was conducted from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 and had a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

– By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.) 

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