Election 2022 Colorado Senate Governor House (print)

the associated press Incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis speaks during an election watch party

Nov. 8

at the Art Hotel in downtown Denver.

Last year’s election left no doubt that Colorado is — for now — a blue state, dominated by Democrats, who swept all the statewide contests and expanded the party’s control of the legislature and delegation to Washington, D.C.

Additionally, the Democratic candidates won races that were supposed to be close — according to national pundits and election forecasters — in a midterm cycle that was expected to be punishing for the party in power, in nearly every instance by comfortable margins and in a few cases in what count as landslides in a state that was considered up for grabs only a decade ago.

It’s become almost a cliché to describe the extent of the Democrats’ win as historic, often with a reference thrown in to similar sweeps in elections many decades past. But since statehood, the party’s recent record at the ballot box in Colorado is unprecedented, with the streak stretching across three general elections.

At the dawn of a new year, when Democrats will have to demonstrate how they’ll govern a still-divided state with control of all the levers of government, it’s illuminating to examine just how historic their candidates’ performance was this year.

For most of the last century, both major parties have shared political power in Colorado, with neither holding a dominant position for more than a couple of election cycles, with rare, brief exceptions.

In the last decade, however, Colorado Democrats have turned that paradigm on its head, sweeping all three of the last general elections, carrying every statewide office up for election and winning the gavels in both chambers of the General Assembly and majorities in Colorado’s congressional contingent.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Attorney General Phil Weiser and State Treasurer Dave Young won reelection in November. It’s the first time in at least 100 years that the occupants of every major statewide office in Colorado both sought another term and won.

Democrats also won five of the state’s eight congressional seats — including one more district than the last election, the new 8th Congressional District, added during last year’s once-a-decade reapportionment due to increased population and occupied by U.S. Rep.-elect Yadira Caraveo, a Democratic state lawmaker from Thornton, who won an extremely close, competitive race against state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, a Brighton Republican.

The solid, unbroken streak began in 2018, when Democrats turned the state executive offices entirely blue, took back the majority in the state Senate while holding onto power in the state House, while ousting a long-serving Republican U.S. House member, when Democrat Jason Crow denied Republican Mike Coffman a sixth term.

Since the 2020 election, the Democratic Party has held all the cards in Colorado, at the state and federal level, following Democrat John Hickenlooper’s defeat of Republican Cory Gardner in that year’s U.S. Senate race, thereafter occupying both of the state’s Senate seats. That same year, Colorado voters gave the state’s electoral votes to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, making for the fourth time running that the Democratic ticket carried the state.

Both parties have swept the ballot in Colorado numerous times since the modern two-party system came to dominate elections in Colorado — soon after the dawn of the 20th century — but only rarely has one party finished an election with all the statewide offices and majorities in both chambers of the legislature after their commanding wins, due to staggered terms for state offices and U.S. Senate seats.

That triumph had only landed with each party once in the last hundred years — until the Democrats’ streak across the past three elections, that is.

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Single party dominance was less rare in the first couple of decades after statehood, when Republicans routinely swept the ballot — in the elections of 1878, 1880, 1884 and 1888, with the GOP’s dominance of Colorado’s state and federal offices only broken by the election of two Democratic governors, in 1882 and 1886, back when governors and other statewide executive officers served two-year terms.

From 1800 to 1906, however, things got complicated, with better performance by Democrats and the emergence of several other political parties, including the Populists — who held the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and one of Colorado’s U.S. Senate seats and both of the state’s congressional seats for two years after the 1892 election and held the majority in the state Senate and House for a term each after the 1894 and 1896 elections, respectively — and the Silver Republicans.

It’s been more than 50 years since either party ran the table and wound up holding all the levers of power the way the Democrats have in recent years. Before the Democrats’ current run, it’s only happened twice in the last century — after the 1970 election, when Republicans ruled the state uncontested, and after the 1936 election, when Democrats did the same.

Neither party repeated the feat in the next election, however, underlining the Democrats’ unprecedented accomplishment in recent years.

One of those elections, oddly enough, fell in a midterm year, when the winning party in Colorado also held the White House, the same as happened in this year’s election.

In 1970, halfway through Richard Nixon’s first term, Republicans won all the statewide executive offices and expanded their majorities in the legislature, at the same time the GOP held both of the state’s Senate seats.

The Republicans who accomplished 52 years ago something like what this year’s crop of Democrats managed to pull off were Gov. John Love, Lt. Gov. John Vanderhoof, Secretary of State Byron Anderson, Attorney General Duke Dunbar and State Treasurer Palmer Burch, with incumbents Love, Anderson and Dunbar winning reelection to their offices.

The achievement isn’t entirely parallel, however, since Republicans lost a handful of seats in the state Senate that year, while still maintaining a majority, and held the same number of seats in the state House after the election as they had before. The two parties also had the same number of seats in the state’s U.S. House delegation — two apiece — but did occupy both U.S. Senate seats.

While the GOP did nearly as well in the next election — when Nixon carried the state in a landslide — the party’s three-term U.S. senator, Gordon Allott, lost a bid for a fourth term to Democrat Floyd Haskell, a former Republican who switched parties a few years earlier over disagreements with Nixon’s Vietnam War policy.

The 1936 election saw President Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner carry Colorado’s votes on the way to reelection to a second term, while at the same time Democrats ran the table at the state level. Elected that year were Gov. Teller Ammons, Lt. Gov. Frank Hayes, Secretary of State George Saunders, Attorney General Byron Rogers and State Treasurer Homer Bedford.

Democrats held overwhelming majorities in the legislature before and after that election, with 29 seats in the state Senate and 50 seats in the state House, as well as both U.S. Senate seats and all four of the state’s U.S. House seats.

Republicans staged a mighty comeback in the next election, however, winning the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices — the two were elected separately and often came from different parties, until a constitutional amendment changed the arrangement ahead of Vanderhoof’s election in 1970 — and the state treasurer’s office, as well as flipping a jaw-dropping 22 seats in the state House to win a 37-seat majority in that chamber. The Democrats did, however, hang on to all four of the state’s U.S. House seats amid the otherwise mostly red wave.

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