It’s a rough night when your major victory is hanging on to a congressional seat that your party has held comfortably for a decade. Colorado Republicans managed that with the Third Congressional District victory of Lauren Boebert, who made the race interesting by besting Scott Tipton in the primary.
Controlling three of seven congressional seats doesn’t seem so bad for Republicans, until we look at the rest of the results. Donald Trump lost “bigly” in Colorado, as did Cory Gardner, handing Democrats their second Senate seat here. Democrats dominate statewide offices—Republican CU Regent Heidi Ganahl must feel pretty lonely—and control both sides of the state legislature.
It is time to ask, then: Has Colorado gone from purple to blue?
If we look only at electoral victories, the answer is obviously that Colorado has moved strongly in a bluish direction. But if we look more deeply at underlying sentiments, Colorado remains more purple than seems immediately obvious. Republicans have an opportunity to thrive here again, but they’ll have to work hard to recast their party as one of sensible governance rather than of factionalism and screeching conspiracism.
Clearly Colorado ain’t Trump Country (although certain parts of Colorado are). Colorado voters went for Hillary Clinton by around five points in 2016 and gave Biden a huge lead, something that hurt downstream Republicans. That won’t be a factor in two years, and hopefully the next presidential election will be less divisive (one can dream), giving local Republicans more of a chance to stand on their own feet.
As is obvious by the decisive victory of the state income-tax cut, on the whole Coloradans don’t elect Progressive politicians to spend like Progressives. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights keeps tax-and-spend leftists safely straightjacketed, at least when it comes to running up the spending. Rather, most people vote for Democrats because Dems are well-organized and they run mostly likable candidates who mostly stick to issues that most voters care about.
Republicans—let’s just say they have room for improvement.
No one seriously imagines that Boebert might ever win a statewide race. (Of course, I once said the same thing about Governor Jared Polis.) Boebert is fortunate that Democrats put up a leftward candidate wildly out of sync with the district. A gun-rights Blue Dog probably would have beat her.
In two years, assuming Boebert can beat back the Republican challengers she is sure to face, Democrats will be (you gotta give me this one) gunning for her, and they’ll bring their sharp shooters this time. Maybe Boebert will buckle down, learn the ropes, work hard, avoid any more verbal embarrassments (as with her remarks about QAnon), and surprise people outside her Trump-friendly base.
Elsewhere, Colorado’s demographics are changing, yet the Republican Party feels like it’s stuck in the 1980s. We’ve got gay marriage and legal marijuana now—deal with it. Of course that’s easy for me to say as a former Libertarian. We have a (married) gay governor, our first Muslim legislator, and a transgender legislator who won a second term despite nasty Republican smears. Republicans need to get with the times or at least figure out how not to needlessly alienate people.
Some Colorado Republicans are trying to play five card draw with only two cards, guns and abortion. In some parts of the state Republicans can win with that hand. But that just isn’t enough for statewide races. I was surprised by how wide a margin Colorado voters defeated the late-term abortion ban.
I realize how hard it can be these days to run on freer markets and fiscal conservatism when the lure of “free” stuff is so enticing. The passage of the payroll tax to fund medical leave is disappointing although not terribly surprising. Not only will the measure push out private alternatives and burden employers with yet more regulations, it will invite gaming of the benefits leading to tighter bureaucratic oversight. Yes, it can be hard to get the word out about boring economic issues. But, with stories about QAnon and smears against transgender people making national news, I doubt anyone can make the case that Colorado Republicans were especially disciplined in their messaging this year.
Republicans stand to benefit down the road if Democrats overstep their mandate. A lot of people voted Democrat mainly because they just don’t like today’s Republican Party, not because they’re excited about a radical Progressive agenda. When Democrats let out their inner Bernie or AOC, Republicans have a chance to counter with a sensible free market alternative.
Also, if Democrats would cool it on guns—especially given record gun sales this year extending to various demographics—maybe they’d stop scaring the hell out of gun-owning voters. Democrats picked quite a year to claim that prosecutors should put more people in prison over nonviolent gun paperwork violations.
Beto O’Rourke created Boebert as a political force by threatening to confiscate people’s guns. When Boebert confronted O’Rourke at a rally in Aurora, she became nationally famous among conservatives. Gun policy is tricky in this state for obvious reasons, yet, especially when Democrats overreach, Republicans can position themselves as the reasonable defenders of self-defense.
Colorado cannot be purple without red. It’s time for the serious Republicans to show up and get to work.