The Colorado governor’s race turned on aspirations, financial realities and a blue tsunami of support for Democrats, drowning Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton in favor of Democrat Jared Polis, who will become the first elected openly gay governor in the U.S., and the state’s first Jewish governor.
Polis will take office with his party running both houses of the state Legislature and with Democrats apparently having won the statewide offices of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. It will be the first time the Democrats have made such a commanding sweep since the 1930s.
Both ABC News and Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli projected that Polis would win the election within an hour of the polls closing. The Associated Press soon followed suit at 8:19 p.m.
As of 10:13 p.m., with 1.8 million votes counted, Polis was leading Stapleton by more than 6 percentage points, 51.5 percent to 45.2 percent.
Polis took the stage to declare victory at the Colorado Democratic Party’s election night party at the Westin Denver Downtown hotel as Bob Dylan’s 1960s anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’” played.
“In Colorado, we dream, we dare, we do,” said a beaming Polis, flanked by his running mate, former state Rep. Dianne Primavera, and his family, including his partner, Marlon Reis, and their two young children.
“We don’t back down when something is challenging. We see problems as opportunities in the state of Colorado.”
Polis thanked the “LGBTQ pioneers” who he said “endured hurt to make it possible for so many of us, myself included, to live and to love openly. I am profoundly grateful.”
Then he turned to Reis — “The first ‘first man’ in the history of Colorado,” he said — and hugged him.
In the wake of a brutal campaign waged by Stapleton and his allies, Polis was generous with olive branches.
He declared: “As your governor, I pledge to serve all Coloradans — no matter your party, no matter where you live, no matter your race, no matter your gender. We’re all in this together.”
Polis said he’s already been in touch with state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, to discuss putting together a bipartisan plan to pay for full-day kindergarten, one of the campaign promises Polis listed when he launched his campaign.
“We’re going to do this all together as a team,” Polis said. “Republicans, independents, Democrats, greens, libertarians and (the unaffiliated)."
The scene at the Colorado GOP’s victory party at the Denver Marriott South at Park Meadows in suburban Lone Tree was more subdued.
“It’s hard to put lipstick on this pig,” state Republican Party chairman Jeff Hays told the crowd.
Stapleton was the first of a series of Republicans who conceded at the Republican gathering, which turned somber as discouraging results rolled in.
“Today I’m sustained by my family, my faith and my friends,” he told the disappointed ballroom with his wife and three children at his side on stage.
He said his children “are going to get to see their dad in the months ahead, and the years.”
Stapleton called on Republicans and Democrats to put aside their differences for the good of Colorado after the tough, sometimes divisive campaigns.
He said the state belongs to everyone, no single politician.
“I will fight every day for the people of Colorado and that will never change,” Stapleton said, citing needs for transportation, schools, health care and sustaining the energy industry.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet took the stage at the state Democrats’ party soon after polls had closed as early returns showed Democrats jumping out to double-digit leads in statewide races and in the battleground state Senate seats.
“I’m not surprised because I know what happened here in 2016 in the state of Colorado, where we rejected the politics of division, we rejected the politics of fear, and we rejected a politics that’s completely inconsistent with our finest traditions as Americans,” Bennet said from the same stage where he declared victory in his re-election bid two years, the same night President Donald Trump won an unexpected victory that left pundits and politicians stunned.
Those traditions, Bennet said, include embracing the Constitution, the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, “and embracing the freedom to marry the person that you love.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, the term-limited Democrat whom Polis will succeed in January, promised the crowd “one heck of a night” shortly after Bennet spoke.
“We are a party that cherishes civil society, built on top of common decency,” said Hickenlooper, who has been exploring a possible run for president. “We believe in facts — facts matter, and that makes us the true patriots.”
Then he addressed the blustery elephant in the room: “Republicans need to dislodge themselves from the president.”
Looming over the election was the Trump presidency, and the fact that, while popular among Colorado Republicans, Trump is phenomenally unpopular among Democrats and also disliked by most independent voters who often decide Colorado elections. A Republican-led poll in June indicated nearly 7 in 10 Coloradans had a negative view of the president, and 57 percent disliked the Republican Party.
In the primary, at least, Stapleton enthusiastically embraced Trump and said the president would be welcome to campaign with him in Colorado.
But once Stapleton became the party’s nominee, Trump did not show up in the state to campaign for Stapleton or any other Republican.
And when Vice President Mike Pence dropped in on a fundraising lunch in Denver, Stapleton was nowhere to be seen.
However, Trump endorsed Stapleton in tweets.
Polis, an entrepreneur who struck it rich starting businesses, said cutting spending and costs are ways he can deliver on his education and health care promises.
Contrary to persistent attacks, Polis said his pledge to move the state toward renewable energy relies on innovation and encouraging market solutions, not the mandates Stapleton warned will soak consumers.
Through the most recent reporting period, Stapleton had hauled in $4 million for his campaign, and his political action committee, Better Colorado Now, had also raised $4 million.
But it was Polis with cash to burn — at last count, contributing $22 million to his campaign from his own pocket.
Polis will be sworn in as the next General Assembly convenes in January. He will inherit a state budget that next year is expected to total $31.4 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion or 4.6 percent, over last year.