Does any hope re­main for Col­orado’s GOP?

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Krista Kafer

In­ter­pret­ing post-elec­tion sta­tis­tics is like de­ci­pher­ing the image in one of those 1990’s 3D pic­tures. The pat­terns are ob­vi­ous, but the pic­ture is elu­sive.

Last Tues­day, Democrats gained the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and flipped seven state leg­isla­tive cham­bers and seven gov­er­nor­ships. In seven states, in­clud­ing Col­orado, Democrats se­cured a “tri­fecta,” mean­ing they con­trol the gov­er­nor­ship and both leg­isla­tive cham­bers.

The gains were mod­est com­pared to past midterms. In such elec­tions typ­i­cally the party that con­trols the White House loses seats in the leg­is­la­ture. Pres­i­dents Clin­ton and Obama lost more seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in their first midterm elec­tions. They also lost Se­nate seats whereas the GOP is likely to pick up four Se­nate seats once Tues­day’s re­sults are fi­nal.

Whereas the na­tion as a whole ex­pe­ri­enced a blue rip­ple, Col­orado got a blue tsunami. Democrats gained the Col­orado Se­nate, the gover­nor’s man­sion, all other state-level elected po­si­tions, and a con­gres­sional seat. Democrats with far less rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence even over­took ex­pe­ri­enced and pop­u­lar GOP can­di­dates for Sec­re­tary of State and At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

How did this hap­pen? Dif­fer­ences in turn out con­trib­uted. Of the 2.4 mil­lion votes cast, an es­ti­mated 87,000 more Democrats voted than Repub­li­cans. Fewer Repub­li­cans voted than did in 2014. A ma­jor­ity of the 147,000 un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers checked the box to re­ceive a Demo­cratic bal­lot. The higher per­cent­age of re­quests by un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers for Demo­cratic bal­lots dur­ing the pri­maries pre­dicted that un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers would lean more left than right dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion. Their turnout for the left was greater than ex­pected.

It has been sug­gested that Col­orado’s pop­u­la­tion growth has con­trib­uted to the blue­ing of Col­orado be­cause peo­ple who moved here from Cal­i­for­nia — mil­len­ni­als pur­su­ing high tech jobs and pot seek­ers — lean left. That’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble.

Also, ac­cord­ing to Tony Robin­son, chair of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Col­orado Den­ver, most of the seats flipped by Democrats this elec­tion were for dis­tricts that are af­flu­ent and ed­u­cated. Democrats are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly the party of the af­flu­ent, sub­ur­ban, and ed­u­cated. The Col­orado Front Range checks those boxes.

Is Col­orado now Cal­i­for­nia East? Doubt­ful. Democrats and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers who turned out for Democrats voted against lib­eral ini­tia­tives to in­crease taxes for roads and ed­u­ca­tion and to in­crease set­backs for oil and gas drilling.

What ex­plains the lack of en­thu­si­asm among the GOP and the strong sup­port for Democrats and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers who si­mul­ta­ne­ously voted for lib­er­als and against lib­eral poli­cies? Could an­tipa­thy for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be a fac­tor? Could this have been a vote against Trump?

An Oc­to­ber Wall Street Jour­nal-NBC poll found that nearly half of the 44 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who said they like the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies don’t like the pres­i­dent. Over the past two years sup­port for Trump’s poli­cies and per­sonal an­tipa­thy have grown. This isn’t sur­pris­ing. Good ideas work and gain pop­u­lar­ity over time. Peo­ple grow ever wea­rier of ju­ve­nile be­hav­ior in high of­fice.

If the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric was a fac­tor in Col­orado and else­where, he can the­o­ret­i­cally fix that prob­lem. If not, the GOP can still be hope­ful. The blue wave that crashed the state’s shores in 2004, 2006, and 2008 even­tu­ally re­ceded. Over those years, Democrats flipped three House seats, two Se­nate seats, the gov­er­nor­ship, and the state leg­is­la­ture. The GOP took back three out of five con­gres­sional seats and the Col­orado Se­nate in suc­ceed­ing years.

Hege­mony leads to over­reach and blow­back, even­tu­ally. Pres­i­dent Trump won’t be in of­fice for­ever to gal­va­nize the left. The GOP should lean on an ob­ser­va­tion cred­ited to Win­ston Churchill: “Suc­cess is not fi­nal, fail­ure is not fa­tal, it is the courage to con­tinue that counts.”

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