110420-dg-election 08.JPG

Sen. Michael Bennet (right) gives an air hug to election workers as he was visiting the Ball Arena on Election Day in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 3. 2020. Bennet and former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (left) were making the rounds to visit polling centers to visit with poll workers. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

It was less than two decades ago when it seemingly took Dick Wadhams 45 minutes to call out Jefferson County's elected Republicans at a Lincoln Day Dinner.

Now, only Sheriff Jeff Shrader and state Rep. Colin Larson, a moderate from Littleton, are left to turn off the lights, when the grand old party is finally over.

Back when they were at their zenith, Colorado Republicans could count on a few things.

Arapahoe and Jefferson counties were the bellwether swing counties, while El Paso and Douglas counties were conservative population centers where the GOP could run up the score against Democrats in Denver and Boulder. 

Not anymore. 

Donald Trump lost Jefferson County by 19 percentage points and Arapahoe County by 25 this year. He won El Paso and Douglas counties with 53% and 52%, respectively.

He lost Colorado by 13.5 points, while U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner lost to former Gov. John Hickenlooper by 9 to complete the double drubbing for the GOP. The state House and Senate, unsurprisingly, stayed in the clutches of the Democrats.

We're a long way from halcyon days of 2002.

That year Bill Owens was reelected governor in a landslide, and both of Colorado's U.S. senators were Republicans, as were five of the seven House members. The secretary of state and state treasurer hailed from the GOP, along with the majorities in the state House and Senate. Ken Salazar, then the attorney general, was the lonely Democrat atop state government. Things looked bleak.

Democrats put in the work and the money while their kind of voters streamed into Colorado. 

These days Colorado is just plain blue, said Steve Welchert, a Democratic consultant who puts the A-plus in political analyst.

“Not purple, not periwinkle, not powder blue,” he explained in the Dec. 14 Zoom chat with friends of the University of Denver and a handful of us politicos.

Wadhams and Welchert were joined by veteran Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli, who leads DU's Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research.

The problem shows up in the math.

Registered Republicans trail registered Democrats by nearly 81,000 voters to begin with, but unaffiliated voters are the state's largest bloc with 39%.

"The power of the unaffiliated voter cannot be denied," Ciruli declared, noting unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly requested Democratic primary ballots this year. Welchert characterized most of them as "closet Democrats."

Wadhams doesn't think it's all ideology. The remedy he prescribes for his beloved GOP is to find better candidates.

In the 10 elections for governor or U.S. senator since 2002, Republicans have won only one, when Gardner unseated Mark Udall six years ago.

"As long as we nominate bad candidates, we're never going to win an election," Wadhams said.

Things can change fast in politics, if Republicans are up to the task. 

If Hillary Clinton had won four years ago, Gardner might have had a shot at reelection, if Democratic baggage had been at issue. Trump brought more baggage than a Greyhound bus.

He was at the top of the ticket, but he also was up and down it, as well.

In the 2022 midterm election, Coloradans will be voting on a Democratic White House, which could complicate reelection prospects for Sen. Michael Bennet.

They’ll be voting on four years of Democratic control at the state Capitol. They’ll be voting on four years under Gov. Jared Polis.

Democrats maintained a commanding majority in the House, 41-24, in November, but they didn’t pick up any seats there and just one in the Senate in what was expected to be a blue wave. A plateau usually precedes a decline.

Independent commissions for the first time will redraw legislative and congressional districts next year. If the commission favors competition over partisan certainty, newly competitive districts could shift the balance of power in the statehouse. 

Polis, however, isn't going anywhere.

Barring seismic blunders or Republicans getting their act together, he has a better chance of losing the Democratic primary in two years than he does the general election. Remind me then if I’m wrong. I won’t be.

Polis can write himself a $20 million check, whenever he feels like it. And that’s the starting point of his fundraising juggernaut. He has a proven political machine and the free spotlight of incumbency. All he can do is mess up a sure thing.

The only person who can beat Jared Polis is named Jared Polis.

Republicans need younger candidates speaking to younger voters' beliefs and needs, rather than wait for 18-year-olds to care about tax cuts. You open the door talking about student debt, not trade policy and culture wars. 

The Colorado GOP has that talent. 

I could see the governor’s race someday including District Attorney George Brauchler, Sen. Paul Lundeen, Heidi Ganahl, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, former House Speaker Brian DelGrosso, former Rep. Lang Sias, former Secretary of State Wayne Williams (if he's not mayor of Colorado Springs), Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and, heck, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez hasn't stopped running since 2018.

That talent is also smart enough to realize timing is everything. They'll need some convincing that now isn’t the time to burn up their political capital against a juggernaut; the seat will be open in 2026.

Right now is a snapshot in time. Sure, a snapshot shows the sky is blue, but a snapshot is not the sky. 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.