How did Colorado Republicans manage to lose most midterm elections given pressing concerns about inflation and crime?
As I wrote over a year ago, Heidi Ganahl had two main tasks: Support down-ballot legislative candidates and “try to convince suburban centrist voters that the Republican Party is not absolutely bat-guano crazy.” Instead, she blew up the non-issue of “furries” in schools, campaigned with the conspiracist John Birch Society, and spurned a 9News debate in favor of appearances with Steve Bannon and Joe Oltmann, who has suggested that the governor be executed.
Meanwhile, Erik Aadland, who has zero experience as an elected official, spent his entire campaign fighting up the hill of his bone-headed remarks that the 2020 election was “rigged.” Tina Peters offers more than enough crazy to scare voters all on her own. Peters, you may recall, faces felony charges over her election shenanigans.
Joe O’Dea, who also has zero experience as an elected official, nevertheless ran a pretty normal and basically competent campaign. So of course some leading Republicans endorsed his Libertarian opponent, and Donald Trump trashed him. Still, O’Dea got crushed less badly than did Ganahl and Aadland.
O’Dea’s loss points to the problem of depth for Colorado Republicans. Rather than build their “bench” by running promising neophytes for regional and state legislative offices first, then running seasoned politicians for higher office, Republicans have let their bench rot and left experienced players sitting.
Sure, O’Dea has an impressive business resume. And sometimes people run successful campaigns for governor or U.S. Congress without prior political experience. But such experience matters. Not only do voters tend to trust people with a proven record, but seasoned candidates are better-prepared for the trials of running for office.
O’Dea lit an impressive portion of his personal fortune on fire in his bid. I’m going to pass along some advice from a politician I very much respect: If you have to spend your own money to run for office, you don’t have enough support to win in the first place. Okay, Jared Polis is an exception—one that proves the rule.
If you are a wealthy Colorado Republican, and someone tells you you need to spend a bunch of your own money to run for office, and keeps blowing smoke up your backside about your chances for victory, ask whether that person stands to personally gain from you so spending your money.
O’Dea’s loss points to another problem: Much of today’s Republican party is obsessed with outlawing abortion. O’Dea was not, so many Republicans either gave him tepid support or else outright opposed him. Yes, Republicans managed to overturn Roe v. Wade. As a consequence, lots of people, especially many women of reproductive age, enthusiastically showed up to vote for Democrats. Many Republicans today emphasize abortion over all other issues, something former Senator Hank Brown warned about a decade ago. That’s not going to win statewide elections or competitive seats in Colorado.
Republicans even managed to bobble the issue of crime. Many exaggerated the legal changes surrounding fentanyl—no, it was never “legalized” or “decriminalized.” Anyway, the libertarian in me points out that threatening to lock people in a cage merely for possessing a drug isn’t exactly consistent with a message of individual liberty.
Many Republicans blamed Democrats for auto thefts when both parties helped create current laws. Generally, Republicans failed to account for trends in crime elsewhere and blamed some reforms that probably had little or nothing to do with spikes. Also, calling Denver a “toilet bowl” probably didn’t do much to win over voters there. Sure, Denver has problems, but exaggerating them doesn’t help.
Republicans fell far short of winning a majority in either side of the legislature. Observing from a distance, what I saw among Democrats were candidates who worked hard, stayed on message, and built each other up. Candidates in safer areas went out of their way to campaign for their allies elsewhere. They were fighting for their ideals, not infighting and fearmongering.
Here’s what I wrote back in 2018, before Polis took office: “If Polis were checked by a Republican state House or Senate, he’d make an excellent governor from a liberty perspective. As it is, Democrats will be tempted to send him a slew of Progressive bills and not a lot of liberty-oriented ones (granting that the two sometimes overlap).”
I was exactly right. Despite Polis’s libertarian-friendly rhetoric, the legislature sent him, and he signed, a stack of bills increasing the financial and regulatory burdens on Coloradans. See my paper on the topic.
Now that Democrats have crushed Republicans in what was supposed to be a “red wave” year, they will be all the more emboldened to dare Polis to veto their hard-left legislation.
Many are saying that Colorado is now a blue state. I believe it is still a purple state in that most voters want the fiscal restraint and economic sense that Republicans are supposed to bring to the table. But you can’t have purple without red. And Republicans have been too undisciplined to bring their crayons to the party.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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