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Colorazul? A state that is red on the outside, blue inside

Brief by Central Staff

Politics – December 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

Central Colorado turned out to be a microcosm of the state and national pattern in this year’s presidential election. George W. Bush won nationally 51-48%, and in Colorado 52-47%.

In the six Central counties (Chaffee, Custer, Gunnison, Lake, Park, and Saguache), Bush got 51.05% of the vote and Kerry 47.29%. Third-party candidates do a little better here than elsewhere; Ralph Nader got 0.89% of our vote and only 0.59% of Colorado’s, and Libertarian Michael Badnarik got 0.45%, better than his 0.36% statewide.

It was no surprise that Custer (even if it was named for a Democrat) was the most Republican county, with Bush getting 68% of its 2,409 votes. He also carried Park (57.3%) and Chaffee (55.5%) counties.

John Kerry did best in Saguache County (56.9%), and also won in Gunnison (56.7%) and Lake(54.9%).

In the San Luis Valley, Bush also won, but it was a lot closer: 9,274 to 9,219. Mineral County was the reddest, with Bush getting 61.8% of its 617 votes; Costilla was the bluest as Kerry got 66.8% of its 1,719 votes. Conejos was almost a tie, with Kerry winning 1,889 to 1,855.

Although Republicans gained nationally in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Democrats gained in Colorado. A Republican Senate seat held by retiring Ben Campbell went to Democrat Ken Salazar, and a Republican House seat, from Colorado’s 3rd District and held by retiring Scott McInnis, went to Ken’s older brother, John Salazar.

The Salazars are from the San Luis Valley, and naturally they ran well there — for instance, even though Bush carried Alamosa County, Ken got 3,900 votes to Republican Pete Coors’s 2,129, and John got 3,923 votes to Greg Walcher’s 1,798. So there was a lot of ticket-splitting on Nov. 2.

In Central Colorado and the San Luis Valley, Ken Salazar carried every county except Chaffee, Custer, and Park. Of our counties in the 3rd District, John Salazar carried all except Custer.

Chaffee, Lake, and Park are in the 5th District, where 10-term incumbent Joel Hefley easily won with 188,032 votes to Democrat Fred Hardee’s 72,340 and Libertarian Rob Roberts’s 6,415. Hardee did carry Lake County, though.

Closer to the grassroots, Democrats generally improved their lot in Central Colorado. In Chaffee County, Democrats Jerry Mallett and Jim Osborne won seats on the county commission, so now the board is all Democrats. The same is true in Gunnison County, where Democrats Hap Channell and Paula Swenson won commission seats. In Saguache County, Democrats Sam Pace and Michael Spearman won commission seats, thereby joining Republican Joe Alexander on the board.

The closest commission race was in Lake County, between two unaffiliated candidates: Mike Hickman and former Leadville Mayor Chet Gaede. Initial returns had Hickman winning 1,005-987, an 18-vote margin. The final tally, released on Nov. 12, gave the seat to Hickman by 11 votes.

Two Democrats, Gary Lindstrom of Summit County (District 56) and Kathleen Curry of Gunnison County (District 61) were elected to the state House; in District 60, Republican Tom Massey of Poncha Springs defeated Emily Tracy of Cañon City. For the first time since the 1974 election Democrats took control of the state House, and they also gained control of the state Senate. The last time Democrats controlled both houses was 1961.

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s bid to “de-Bruce” failed by 78 votes. It passed in Chaffee County, but voters in Custer and western Frémont counties turned it down, and their margin overcame Chaffee’s support.