Democrats will likely have to wait at least until the next election to crack the Board of El Paso County Commissioners.
By 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Republicans appeared to have a chokehold on both contested commissioner races. Longinos Gonzalez in District 4 and District 3's Stan VanderWerf both held early leads, although one Democrat made a significant push to threaten the conservative status quo that has dominated county leaderhip since the early 1970s.
Electra Johnson held onto more than 46 percent of the District 3 vote aginst Vanderwerf's 53 percent with more than two-thirds of the tally reported. She didn't expect to close the gap before the night was through but said she is "not done yet."
"My opponent can do nothing and still win in this county," said Johnson, who previously commented to The Gazette that all VanderWerf needed was an "'R' next to his name."
"What we've done is made it hurt," she said. "We've run a hell of a campaign. Just wait until the next election cycle."
Johnson said she and her workers sent out 65,000 mailers and knocked on 35,000 doors since she joined the race in the spring.
VanderWerf, who ran on a platform that includes boosting the local economy and a continued focus on disaster recovery and planning, exuded confidence during a campaign night party at the Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs. But the retired U.S. Air Force officer refused to call the race over.
"It's not called yet, but the numbers look good," he said, pointing to his almost 5,000 vote lead at 9 p.m.
Vanderwerf said Johnson put up a good fight noting that, "She motivated her base and she brought a lot of people into her campaign."
Gonzalez was also tentative about claiming victory after the early returns despite his holding more than 63.5 percent of the vote over Democrat Liz Rosenbaum in District 4.
Gonzalez had dinner at a local restaurant with friends and was on his way to the Antlers when he did a phone interview with The Gazette. He said his dinner mates poked fun at his outward display of nerves despite his lead.
"My friends were laughing a little bit because I kept checking my phone," he said. "My hands kept shaking."
At one point in early 2016, more than a dozen candidates had joined the fight for the three open commissioner seats. That mix was whittled to just five competitors after the June 28 primaries.
Gonzalez defeated Scott Turner by 33 votes in one Republican primary after Turner demanded a recount. And VanderWerf defeated Karen Cullen with more than 56 percent of the vote in the District 3 Republican primary.
Waller won by the largest margin in the primaries, bumping Tim Geitner in a heated race in which Geitner accused Waller of dishonest campaign practices. Waller's victory paved the way to assume the District 2 seat early after Amy Lathen resigned in early July to become the executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward.
Rosenbaum and Johnson were uncontested in their Democratic primary elections. A Democrat has not been elected to the Board of County Commissioners since Stan Johnson won the District 1 seat in 1970.