Colorado Republicans took another big election day hit on the heels of anti-Trump losses in 2018.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner was swamped by the anti-Trump wave as the president lost by 14 points in Colorado while Gardner ran five points better than Trump, losing by nine. Gardner was a very effective senator for Colorado, but it made no difference to the hundreds of thousands of new, largely unaffiliated, anti-Trump voters who have dramatically changed our electorate in just a few years.
Senator-elect John Hickenlooper carried the Democratic behemoths of Denver and Boulder counties by 80-20 while Gardner lost the formerly competitive suburban counties of Jefferson and Arapahoe by more than fifteen points. Even the Republican bastions of El Paso and Douglas counties vastly underperformed, giving Gardner majorities only in the mid-50s.
No Republican can ever win a statewide election again with these kinds of numbers. But I do not think these numbers are inevitable.
Democrats have already declared Colorado to be permanently and deeply blue. But if there is any solace a Republican could have in the election of the doddering Joe Biden as president, it’s that the exit of President Donald Trump will potentially remove the most dominant, if not the only, reason for Democratic wins in 2018 and 2020.
The national and state Democratic parties will continue to move left with their support of defunding the police and justification of violent riots; with their crusade to eliminate private health insurance for hundreds of millions of Americans through “Medicare for All” or by slowly undercutting and killing private health insurance through an insidious public option; and with their agenda to kill hundreds of thousands of oil and gas jobs by banning fracking through their “Green New Deal” that will also drive up the cost of energy for those most challenged to pay those increased costs.
With a few exceptions, Democrats across the board have embraced the Democratic Socialism of the de facto Speaker of the House, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and “The Squad.” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, along with Democratic Socialist Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will be de facto co-presidents.
Without Trump in the White House, voters will be able to see this new Democratic Socialist Party up close and personal.
But any Republican who is considering running in 2022 when governor and U.S. senator are both on the ballot had better think long and hard not only of the demographic changes in our state, but also about the harsh realities of the past 18 years when Republicans squandered race after race for these offices.
The last time Republicans won both of those offices in the same election was in 2002 when Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard were reelected. Owens was reelected with little opposition after becoming the first Republican elected governor in 28 years in 1998 in one of the closest elections in Colorado history. The always-underestimated Allard won another hard fought victory in a rematch with his 1996 opponent. Owens, Allard and Democratic-turned-Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell collectively won five straight elections from 1996 to 2002.
Since that heady election night of 2002, there have been ten elections for governor and senator and the only Republican victory was Gardner’s defeat of incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2014.
Were those nine unsuccessful campaigns inevitable losses? Absolutely not. Most of them were winnable but several Republican candidates failed to meet the challenge of a competitive statewide race by not having a coherent agenda, by not understanding there is more to winning than just being the Republican nominee, or by making stupid, undisciplined mistakes.
Yes, technology has changed the way campaigns operate and Colorado’s demographics are much different but the fundamentals have not changed. If a candidate cannot answer the question of why they want a major statewide office other than personal ambition, or cannot define a clear and compelling agenda that goes beyond the conservative Republican base and attracts the support of hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated voters, then that candidate will lose.
Bill Owens is the only Republican governor to be elected in fifty years because he defined a clear agenda to cut taxes, improve transportation, and reform education, issues that transcended partisan lines. Senator Wayne Allard won two of the toughest elections in Colorado history by running aggressive, disciplined campaigns against a much better-funded opponent.
If Republican candidates want to win in 2022, they might want to take a hard look at those who actually won in the last 20 years and, just as important, at those who lost winnable elections.
Dick Wadhams is a Republican political consultant and former state party chairman who ran campaigns for Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Senator Wayne Allard.
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