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Eye on the Fifth

By Dan Smith

In some parts of Colorado, and the nation, whether there was a Democratic “blue wave” this mid-term election or not depended on what stretch of political beach you were standing on.

At the state government level, however, there wasn’t much debate; the numbers reflect that a true blue tsunami swept the governor’s office, constitutional offices, both Senate and House and swamped the skeptics, with many Republicans caught in the political undertow.

Many national news sources and analysts looked to the White House for one of the underlying motivational factors in Democratic gains nationwide. The Trump effect meant a dramatic change in the U.S. House, but the GOP retained and padded their U.S. Senate majority.

In Colorado, the wave was evident in the top contests; Democrat Jared Polis defeated Republican Walker Stapleton for Governor by ten percentage points, and the other constitutional offices had Democratic win margins of six percent and better.

The list included Secretary of State Jena Griswold, beating incumbent Wayne Williams; Attorney General, won by Phil Weiser over George Brauchler, and Treasurer Dave Young defeating Brian Watson.

The Dems also rode an electoral deluge in the legislature, taking back the State Senate and expanding their edge in the House, eclipsing predictions and reflecting Democratic gains in the U.S. House.

The Democratic state sweep was arguably eyebrow-raising, and subject to the usual spin from both sides. Democrats in Colorado pointed toward the Trump effect and, some argued, besides Trump’s impact the electorate has changed in recent years; saying GOP policies are out of touch with the younger, more diverse voters turning the state blue.

The current GOP head, Jeff Hays, talking to the Denver Post, seemed to believe it was a temporary condition influenced by Trump’s antics. But another observer, noting that Democrats and unaffiliated voters each outnumber Republicans, said it meant the message wasn’t matching the voters’ mindset.

The Colorado Sun reported that a former GOP party executive director said Republicans were not capturing the “hearts and minds” of voters now, and called for more effort to reach out to diverse communities with a positive message and good candidates. Other leaders said the GOP should stay the conservative course.

Besides the legislative wave, the state mirrored the flood of women candidates seen nationwide, from Chaffee County, where not all were victorious, to the Fifth Congressional District showing of Stephany Rose Spaulding, who garnered more than 124,000 votes against long-term GOP incumbent Doug Lamborn, who polled 181,000. Chaffee Country was the only one in the district to post a win for Spaulding.

Other national firsts for the state were Joe Neguse, winning the Second Congressional District formerly held by Polis, who becomes the first black Colorado representative in history, and the unseating of veteran Mike Coffman in the Sixth Congressional District, where boundary changes made the political map more diverse than it had been in the past; that seat won by relative newcomer Jason Crow.

Conversely, in the Third Congressional District, incumbent Republican Scott Tipton won re-election despite a strong challenge from Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush. She polled well in the population centers of the spread-out district (covering all or parts of 29 counties), while Tipton kept his rural strength.

Colorado’s results represented one of the most dramatic sweeps in the country, with voter turnout the best in a mid-term election since 1936, more than 65 percent, and second only to Minnesota. With some ballots still to be counted from overseas, the tally showed more than 2.5 million people voted in Colorado out of approximately 3.38 million active registered voters.

Observers say unaffiliated voters in the state showed unprecedented clout as well, with a very high turnout that leaned toward Democratic candidates.

A Denver Post post-election poll found both unaffiliated voter turnout (878,000) and that of registered Democrats (849,000) each outpaced Republican turnout (813,000) for the first time ever in a midterm election.

The Denver Post quoted former governor Roy Romer, who’s 90, as saying he could not remember an election where Democrats took the governorship, both legislative houses and statewide constitutional offices as well.

Also of note statewide, were the defeats for propositions to raise taxes for our state’s poorly funded educational system and transportation improvements. Chaffee County, however, passed a small sales tax increase for community-organized conservation measure 1A.

And, while a measure to ban slavery in all forms statewide passed easily, how do you explain 35 percent of the electorate voting against it?

The governing trifecta of Governor, House and Senate will give Democrats renewed power to push a progressive legislative agenda, and with just two years until the 2020 presidential election, perhaps give Colorado Republicans a reason for more political soul-searching and reflection.