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The gold-covered capitol dome in Denver, Colorado.
Democratic governors are taking on issues that they until recently had avoided: gun restrictions, marriage equality, immigration reform, the death penalty. Republican governors meanwhile are generally moving in the opposite direction. A reason for this is that in 37 states both houses of the legislature and the governorship are controlled by a single party—23 Republican and 14 Democratic, with split control in the rest:
While Republican governors elected during the party's historic wave in 2010 have drawn criticism for their unabashedly conservative agendas to restrict abortion, rein in labor unions, and slash state spending, a number of Democratic governors are just as aggressively pushing liberal policies such as gay marriage and gun control. Emboldened by President Obama's reelection, a younger and more diverse electorate, and an increasing number of state governments under one-party control, these Democratic governors are crusading on issues the party steered clear of until recently. It's happening not just in solidly Democratic states like New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Connecticut but also in more competitive battlegrounds such as Colorado, where new gun laws are fueling two recall elections and threats of secession from some rural counties.

As potential presidential candidates and rivals to Hillary Rodham Clinton, governors such as Cuomo and O'Malley are leading the Democratic Party down its most socially liberal path in decades.

"Especially on social issues, the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved in the more liberal direction," said Bill Galston, a former Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There's a new generation of Democrats who see lots of gain and very little pain in stronger gun safety legislation and gay marriage."

But just how big a risk are these governors actually taking? In Colorado, a state where independent voters registered as neither Democrats nor Republicans have for four decades made up a substantial portion of the electorate, we are about to find out in a recall election of two state senators.

The pair backed mild new gun restrictions—expanding background checks to private sales and limiting ammunition magazines for semi-automatic firearms to a maximum of 15 rounds. While the recall won't directly affect the governor, if it succeeds, it will cut the Democratic majority in the state Senate from five to one.

A successful recall would not only embolden Republicans who are not accustomed to having Democrats in the majority in the legislature, it might also flash the caution light on any new gubernatorial initiatives to which opponents could attach a liberal label. Perhaps not only in Colorado but also in some of the other states where Democratic establishments that were previously more moderate or just overly cautious have been building up a head of steam for reform on social issues.

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