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Will the anticipated political blue wave hit Colorado?

By: THOMAS E. CRONIN AND ROBERT D. LOEVY Special to The Gazette
May 5, 2018 Updated: May 5, 2018 at 1:45 pm
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Tom Cronin, left, and Bob Loevy January 26, 2017. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The national news media have been reporting lately on the "blue wave" that is expected to roll across the United States on Election Day this November.

"Blue" stands for Democratic. "Wave" stands for a potential torrent of anti-Trump votes that will bring the Democrats control of both houses of Congress and win the party many other elected offices throughout the United States.

There is justification for talking in the spring about a blue wave swamping the Republicans in the general election this fall. In the first place, the political party that wins the White House in the previous presidential election (2016) almost always suffers congressional losses in the non-presidential election two years later (2018).

In other words, even if Donald Trump was a popular president scoring well in the public opinion polls, the Republican Party would be expected to lose seats in the House of Representatives and Senate this fall.

Trump's approval ratings have hovered around 41 percent. It is those low approval ratings - plus the normal drop in support for the president's political party two years after the presidential election - that are driving the blue-wave predictions.

Adding to blue-wave speculation in 2018 are demonstrations for higher pay by public school teachers, Trump's anti DACA stands, the #MeToo movement, and pressure for gun safety.

In addition to big losses in Congress, the GOP could also drop a few governorships and relinquish control of several houses of state legislatures.

If history repeats, the supposed 2018 blue wave will reach Colorado and damage the Republicans when it gets here. Twice in relatively recent electoral history, in 1964 and 1974, blue waves have struck Colorado, put additional Democrats in elected office, and left the Republicans in an electoral shambles.

In 1964, Colorado, a state that had voted Republican in the previous three presidential elections, went strongly for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater. Goldwater's outspoken brand of conservatism, which included voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, did not play well in Colorado.

The rout was so complete that even the three strongest Republican counties in Colorado - El Paso, Douglas, and Weld - voted for Lyndon Johnson.

In the 1964 blue wave, the Colorado state House, at that time routinely Republican, elected a Democratic majority. The state Senate, however, remained Republican.

An even bigger blue wave struck Colorado in 1974, the year that national anger over the Watergate scandal was in play. The cover-up of a Republican engineered robbery of Democratic offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., forced Republican President Richard Nixon to resign from office.

This blue wave elected a Democratic governor in Colorado (Richard Lamm) and switched a U.S. Senate seat from Republican (Peter Dominick) to Democratic (Gary Hart). Democrat Tim Wirth upset the incumbent Republican that year in Colorado's 2nd congressional district. And, as in 1964, the Democrats won control of the usually Republican Colorado House of Representatives, yet failed to win the state Senate.

The electoral damage to the Republicans in the blue waves of 1964 and 1974 was reduced by the fact that Colorado was a much more Republican state at that time than is the case now. Colorado currently is more evenly balanced between the two major political parties. A formerly red (Republican) state is now rightly regarded as a purple (swing) state.

Buoying Democratic prospects from the anticipated blue wave of 2018 is that, with the two parties now so evenly balanced in Colorado, a surge of Democratic votes in Colorado should produce more Democratic victories than the blue waves of the past.

The morning after this plausible blue wave surges through, Colorado may have a Democratic governor (perhaps its first woman governor in Cary Kennedy), a Democratic state treasurer, and a Democratic attorney general. These elected posts are usually held by Republicans.

A super blue wave in 2018 will be required to dislodge Wayne Williams, of El Paso County, from his job as secretary of state. Williams is a savvy Republican incumbent and should survive the blue wave if any Republican can, yet he has a feisty Democratic opponent in attorney Jena Griswold, a native of Estes Park.

As the blue-wave waters recede, the Democrats could find themselves with comfortable majorities in both the Colorado Senate and House. With a Democratic governor elected as well, the Democrats will control the two houses of the Legislature and the governor's office, thereby having an uncommon political control over Colorado state government.

Treasured Democratic goals such as more state money for K-12 education and free tuition at community colleges could be achieved.

And a blue wave, if it appears, just might give the Democrats the two U.S. House of Representatives seats held by Republicans Mike Coffman (6th district) and Scott Tipton (3rd district). Coffman faces a tough challenger in Democrat Jason Crow. The Democrats would then hold 4 or possibly 5 of Colorado's 7 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A cautionary note. If the U.S. economy and employment numbers continue to be strong, it will help the Republicans this November. If Trump's impressive early negotiations with the two Koreas continue to be successful, this could further blunt the blue wave.

And anticipated waves sometimes do not materialize. There was supposed to be a red wave in the 1998 off-year elections because of Democrat Bill Clinton's "misbehavior" with a White House intern. The Republicans made some gains that year, but there was no wave effect.

But the possible blue wave will affect the upcoming 2018 elections in Colorado. Democrats will work harder as they anticipate a big win. Republicans, particularly incumbents, will make maximum efforts to keep their elected offices. It should make for a hard fought, heavily financed, and exciting election.

Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are political scientists at Colorado College.

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