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New Yorker magazine notes ski counties turning blue

Brief by Allen Best

Politics – October 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

The New Yorker in a recent article examined the politics of Colorado. The article argued that if Barack Obama hopes to win the West, he needs to understand how Democrats came to control Colorado. The ski towns were mentioned as what political operatives called a “blue strip.”

For most of the last 60 years, Republicans have controlled the Rocky Mountain West. They still do in those areas where ranching prevails.

But in 2004, a noteworthy trend became evident in Colorado and, for that matter, in other parts of the recreation-dominated West. Places like Gunnison, Grand and Routt counties — homes respectively to Crested Butte, Winter Park and Steamboat Springs — bucked their Republican traditions and voted for a Democrat -John Kerry -for president.

Some ski-anchored mountain counties — notably Aspen-dominated Pitkin County and Telluride-dominated San Miguel County — have consistently voted for Democrats for decades. But this new “blue strip” of resort communities in formerly rural, traditional Republican ranch counties is “now full of second homes and growing,” observed Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s chief of staff, Jim Carpenter.

Carpenter observed that change close-up, as he grew up in Granby, located near Winter Park and within Grand County. For decades it was so Republican that the only local elections that mattered occurred in the primary. Everybody from county coroner to surveyor was registered a Republican, whatever his or her true leanings may have been. In 2004, however, Grand County crossed the aisle to Kerry.

This blue-strip alone, however, does not explain why Colorado became a swing state. Also important, noted the New Yorker, were the growing number of Hispanics and, most important of all, the shift in Denver’s suburbs.

“Democrats often pay homage to the symbols of the American frontier,” concluded the magazine. “But the iconography of their Western strategy is not so much about mountain, cowboys, and tumbleweed as it is about tract houses, research labs, and wind farms.”