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POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Is Colorado a purple state or a blue state?

By: Dick Wadhams and Ryan Macoubrie
September 17, 2017 Updated: September 18, 2017 at 11:34 am
Caption +
A voter goes into the Boulder County Clerks Office to cast their ballot on Election Day in Longmont, Colo., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (Cliff Grassmick /Daily Camera via AP)

Dick Wadhams

Colorado's discerning and independent voters will again make the 2018 election a competitive drama that goes down to the wire.

There is a myth that Colorado was a Republican bastion for decades before Democrats finally broke through the red wall and the state is now inevitably headed blue. But the reality is that Colorado has been a purple state for the past 45 years, remains so today, and always will be.

Republicans won every election for governor and U.S. senator and dominated other elections from 1962 to 1970. But the Watergate scandal rejuvenated Democrats in 1974 and the two parties have been going back and forth ever since.

Since 1972, there have been 16 elections for U.S. senator with Republicans winning 7 and Democrats winning 9. Democrats dominated 11 races for governor, winning 9 while Republicans won 2, with Democrats winning 6 straight between 1974 and 1994. Bill Owens is the only Republican governor elected since 1974, winning in 1998 and 2002.

Even more revealing is that out of the 27 elections for governor and U.S. senator since 1972, only four could be defined as pre-determined blowouts by immensely popular incumbents: Two Republicans, Sen. Bill Armstrong in 1984 and Gov. Bill Owens in 2002, and two Democrats, Gov. Dick Lamm in 1982 and Gov. Roy Romer in 1990.

Arguably, 23 of those 27 elections over 45 years were competitive and could have gone either way.

Meanwhile, other statewide offices, the state legislature and competitive congressional seats have largely gone back and forth over the decades with each party enjoying periods of dominance.

Colorado voters, dominated by more than a third of the electorate who are registered as unaffiliated, shun party nominees who are too ideologically narrow or who cannot articulate a clear vision for their candidacy.

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner ran a brilliant campaign in 2014 unseating a popular Democratic incumbent even while the Republican nominee for governor was losing to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But just two years later in 2016, the Republican nominee against a weakened Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, ran a failed ideological campaign.

Colorado voters have traditionally been roughly a third Democrat, a third Republican and a third unaffiliated, but while Republican and Democrat numbers have been stagnant, unaffiliated voters continue to increase.

As of Sept. 1, there were 1,048,676 Democrats (31.3 percent), 1,041,571 Republicans (31.1 percent) and 1,198,905 unaffiliated voters (35.7 percent).

Democrats for governor are diving over each to get to the far left with pie-in-the-sky promises of all renewable energy by 2040 while killing the jobs of thousands of energy workers. Others call for Bernie Sanders-style single-payer health care and "Medicaid for all."

Meanwhile, among Republicans possibly running for governor, some are already ignoring the lessons of the past and running narrow campaigns incapable of winning a general election.

Both parties are capable of winning or losing the governor's race and a multitude of other offices in 2018.

That's the way it should be and will be for years to come. Colorado voters will make sure of it.


Ryan Macoubrie

Consider this: Massachusetts was a reliably Republican state in presidential elections for 68 years, from 1856 to 1924, then 89 years ago turned Democratic for almost every election since 1928 - except going twice for Eisenhower and twice for Reagan. And California has voted consistently Democratic since 1992, about 25 years ago, going Republican in 9 of the 10 presidential elections before then.

Compare this with Colorado, which voted Republican in 17 of the 22 presidential elections from 1920 to 2004, then switched to voting consistently Democratic in the last 3 elections (2008, 2012, and 2016).

We've also elected Democratic governors in 12 of the last 17 elections (including 9 of the last 11), and elected Democratic U.S. senators in 9 of the last 16 elections (including 4 of the last 5).

Colorado seems to be passing now through that same liberal tipping point which Massachusetts hit in 1928 and California hit in 1992, for the overwhelming majority of recent statewide elections have been favorable to the Democrats (thank God), and in 2016, for the first time ever, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by more than 7,000 active voters. (Granted, that's not a large margin. But even so, a win is a win.)

Even here in Colorado Springs and El Paso County (the large red heart of conservatism in Colorado, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1), voters have supported progressive policies: passing the recreational marijuana Amendment 64, approving a sales tax increase for infrastructure funding, even electing a liberal-leaning City Council.

We are far from being a Democratic sanctuary, but we are moving in the left direction.

And why?

What accounts for this rising tide of liberalism? Several things, I believe.

Common sense and common values. More and more voters identify less and less with the radical extremism of today's conservative Republican Party.

And they see how the Democratic Party has real plans for how to help real people live better lives, how to repair roads and improve schools, and how to raise wages for everyone, and they like it.

So they vote for it.

Specific interests. Broadly speaking, the Republican Party represents the business community, and the Democratic Party represents everyone else - hence our other name, The People's Party.

Yet most Coloradans are neither business owners nor particularly interested in business interests (reducing corporate tax rates, removing safety regulations, keeping wages low and profits high), so they prefer instead whoever speaks to them about their interests, and that's the Democratic Party.

Changing demographics. The base of the Republican Party is shrinking, while the base of the Democratic Party is growing - because the Democratic Party, being a multi-interest party, appeals to more people, with diverse interests, especially younger people, women, and minorities - who are all becoming majorities.

So now will Democrats in Colorado win every election every time?

No, of course not. But the majority of Coloradans are voting the Democratic Party line in the majority of elections, and that's good enough.


Dick Wadhams was the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party from 2007 to 2011. He lives in Littleton. Ryan Macoubrie is the chairman of the El Paso County Young Democrats. He lives in Colorado Springs.

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