It’s official: Colorado is a blue state. Can Republicans recover?
Democrats did far better even than I expected. I thought Wayne Williams would cruise to re-election for Secretary of State and that George Brauchler would edge out Phil Weiser for Attorney General. Wrong!
My worry that Libertarian candidates might endanger key Republican victories now seems comical. Democrats absolutely crushed their opponents in what I thought were competitive races.
We already knew that Colorado is not Trump country. I attended the 2016 Republican convention, where delegates went for Ted Cruz over Trump. And Colorado voters went for Hillary Clinton by nearly five points — Trump barely broke 42 percent.
Yet I did not anticipate how much many Colorado voters hate Trump or how much voters would punish even anti-Trump Republicans, such as defeated Congressman Mike Coffman, because of Trump.
As Magellan Strategies summarized, “There is no question that Donald Trump had a negative impact on Republican candidates, with 34 percent of unaffiliated voters saying they were less likely to vote for a Republican candidate because of his influence.”
But the problem is not just Trump. The GOP also ran a feckless top-of-line candidate for governor, and no doubt that hurt downstream candidates.
In the Year of the Woman, Republicans passed on perhaps Colorado’s most competent and experienced woman Republican officeholder, sitting AG Cynthia Coffman, largely because of her moderately pro-choice views on abortion.
I doubt Coffman would have beaten Jared Polis, either, given the trends, but I think she would have done less-badly and not positively harmed downstream Republicans.
Instead, Republicans went for the privileged prep-schooler Walker Stapleton, who, ironically, may have beaten Coffman only because he was too inept to successfully petition onto the primary ballot.
Instead, Stapleton joined Coffman at the Republican Assembly, where his good-ol’-boy buddies relentlessly smeared Coffman with nasty text messages and fliers (I attended the convention and voted for Coffman).
But the tactics that worked against Coffman at an exclusive Republican meet-up did not work against Polis. Polis, a self-made multi-millionaire whose business successes would make most red-blooded Republican candidates envious, ran on an upbeat, positive agenda, however impractical. Stapleton ran as the anti-Polis, and he was hardly above playing dirty.
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Stapleton and his allies thought they’d hit paydirt when former Coloradan Todd Shepherd dug up a 1999 police report saying, as the headline puts it, “Polis Pushed Female Employee.”
Of course, the real story is that Polis was practicing the Republican virtue of self-defense as he stopped a former employee from stealing company files, a crime for which she was later convicted. The facts did not stop Team Stapleton from concocting the loony conspiracy theory that Polis changed his name to cover up the incident. (Polis changed his legal name from “Jared Polis Schutz” to “Jared Schutz Polis” for obvious political reasons.)
Although neither candidate was especially keen on talking with the media, Stapleton demeaned journalists and very bravely ran away from writers such as Patricia Calhoun, who, granted, is an intimidating figure.
And Stapleton’s man-crush with Trump did not help him. Recall that Trump vocally endorsed Stapleton. Magellan summarized Stapleton’s Trump problem and his credibility problem: “Only a few unaffiliated voters supported [Stapleton] for his positions on sanctuary cities and his support of Donald Trump and his policies. … [M]any more … opposed him for the same reason. … [U]naffiliated voters describe Walker Stapleton as being a liar, dishonest and untrustworthy because of his false attacks on Jared Polis and claiming to be a fourth generation Coloradan.”
Stapleton, as Colorado’s most-visible Republican statewide candidate, did worse than the other major statewide candidates.
Stapleton earned around 1,080,000 votes (based on preliminary figures), whereas Wayne Williams earned 1,113,000 votes; Brian Watson (a political nobody), 1,110,000 votes; and George Brauchler (the Republican “Golden Boy”), 1,124,000 votes. This is so even though more people voted in the governor’s race.
So, outside Republican strongholds, Colorado Republicans lost bigly, thanks mainly to Trump and Stapleton. How can Republicans come back?
- Run competent candidates. Stapleton, with his political name and connections, took “his turn” and fumbled the ball.
- Don’t blame Polis’ pocketbook. That Polis spent tons of his own funds on his campaign obviously helped him. But money does not guarantee political success, as Sandra Fish explains. Yes, Republicans need money to win. But to get money they need to convince potential backers that they can win.
- Stop warring with the media. Sure, most journalists are center-left. But Republicans can earn a fair hearing by being responsive, polite, congenial, upbeat and informative.
- Run candidates other than anti-abortion zealots. How many times do Colorado voters need to communicate that they won’t put up with the total abortion bans embraced by many Republican candidates? Unfortunately, pro-choice Republicans probably will have to bypass the Assembly and go straight to primary voters.
- Promote approval voting so we don’t have to worry about “spoiled” elections down the road. In Colorado, at least, Libertarian and American Constitution candidates hurt Republicans far more than Greens hurt Democrats. Meanwhile, hopefully Democrats will get on board with the reform just because it is pro-democratic.
The Republican Party of Colorado is dead. Long live the Republican Party of Colorado — if it can get its act together.
Ari Armstrong (@ariarmstrong) publishes the Colorado Freedom Report and is the author of Reclaiming Liberalism.