Team Blue “ran the table” in Tuesday’s Colorado state elections. It’s been “four score and two” years, in 1936, since Democrats won all four statewide elected positions in the state — governor, treasurer, attorney general, and secretary of state — and won majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
What accounts for this sweep? Turnout was unusually high among unaffiliated and first-time voters. Republican turnout was uncharacteristically low. Democratic campaigns, such as Jared Polis’ for governor and Jena Griswold’s for secretary of state, spent way more money than their opponents. Democrat Jason Crow’s successful congressional campaign also was helped by a larger war chest than that of his opponent — incumbent Mike Coffman.
Denver suburbs, like suburbs across the country, turned more Democratic, in rebuffing President Donald Trump’s populist nativism. Midterm elections are traditionally hard on the party of incumbent presidents. Clinton had even bigger losses in 1994, as did Bush in 2006 and Obama in both 2010 and 2014.
If Colorado voters placed more trust in Democratic candidates than in Republican candidates this past week, they were still decidedly against raising taxes. They said no to a proposed major increase for public schools, and no to two proposals to spend more on highways and bridge building.
They also sided with the energy industry, in voting against stricter regulations on fracking and related oil and gas activities.
This split decision — let Democrats govern the state, but do not give the state more taxes — is another example of the purple political culture of Colorado.
Here are other reflections on the 2018 Colorado elections:
Voting results in Colorado paralleled voting results nationwide: Dems did well, turnout was up, there were more first-time voters, independents were more energized, and suburbs were more central to the outcome. In Colorado, as the nation, there is a gender gap, an age gap and a rural/suburban/urban gap.
Public opinion polls, both in Colorado and in the nation, were almost universally accurate.
The invisibility of the candidates for lieutenant governor was striking this year. Former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, as we recall, was much more visible in 2010 and 2014. Quick quiz: Can you name the two major-party candidates this year for lieutenant governor? Bet you can’t.
One of the biggest surprises of this election was the defeat of incumbent Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams. Most politically active people and most pundits thought he would win.
Most people, including even his opponent, praised him for his professional performance. Wayne’s wife, Holly Williams, rolled up a 70 percent plus victory in her El Paso County commissioner race on the same day her husband lost. We can only conclude that the “anti-Trump” blue wave and the Polis “money wave” resulted in Wayne Williams’ defeat as collateral damage.
Another big event this election cycle was the success Democrats had in winning legislative districts. These were predominantly in the Denver metro area. Our guess is that the Democratic wins were powered by greater turnouts by progressive leaning independents, higher turnouts by women and first-time voters, and by larger than usual campaign contributions.
Is there any sort of silver lining for Republicans this year? The anti-tax ballot issue results are one positive. Another indicator of a still divided state is that Dems won barely 51 percent of the vote for down-ballot elected officials. And in the governor’s race, although Polis out-spent, outcampaigned and outdebated his opponent, he still won statewide voting by only 53 percent. Other Democratic governors from the recent past, including Dick Lamm, Roy Romer and even Bill Ritter, won more decisive electoral victories than Polis won this year.
Two other consolations for Republicans: As of this year, Republicans still hold many governorships, even in very blue states such as Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont. And here in Colorado, history shows that a Republican such as former-Gov. Bill Owens can win the governorship even after the state has had two very popular Democratic governors.
The Republican Party in Colorado has been wounded, but it will rise up in the future and see more promising election days.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are political scientists at Colorado College.