November 21, 2004


Democrats May Use Results in Colorado as Political Primer (T.R. Reid, November 21, 2004, Washington Post)

When Democratic state chairmen gather in Florida next month to lick their wounds from the Nov. 2 election, their agenda will include a careful study of one bright spot in a generally sorry performance: Colorado, a solidly red state that went almost completely blue this year.

Despite a large Republican advantage in registered voters and the popularity of President Bush, who carried the state easily for the second time, Colorado Democrats picked up a U.S. Senate seat and House seat that had been considered safe for the GOP. They reversed Republican majorities in the state House and Senate to take control of the legislature. And they backed expensive ballot measures that passed by large majorities despite opposition from the GOP.

In the process, the Democrats tarnished the stature of Gov. Bill Owens, a popular but term-limited Republican who has made no secret of his ambition for national office. Candidates closely tied to Owens lost the Senate and House races. The governor campaigned in vain for Republican legislators and against a new transit tax that won broad voter approval.

Colorado Democrats say their success carries a lesson for the national party. "We campaigned on pragmatism," state Democratic Chairman Christopher Gates said. "We set ourselves up as the problem solvers, while the Republicans were hung up on a bunch of fringe social issues like gay marriage and the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The notion that moral issues won the 2004 election was disproven in Colorado," Gates continued. "We offered solutions, not ideology, and won almost everything."

Democrats here also made a tactical decision to distance themselves from John F. Kerry. Ken Salazar, the moderate Democrat who won the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by a Republican, said during the campaign that "my schedule has just been too busy" to allow him to appear with Kerry during the presidential candidate's many visits to the state.

Both parties agree that the Democrats did a better job of registering voters and turning them out. Further, Colorado Democrats reversed a traditional GOP edge in fund-raising, largely through "the four horsemen," four multimillionaires who helped plan and finance the statewide Democratic effort to win control of the legislature.

Political analysts say that Owens and Republican leaders hurt their party by failing to deal with the state's fiscal dilemma when they controlled the legislature.

"Here's a state with an $800 million deficit and a set of conflicting constitutional amendments that make it almost impossible to deal with the deficit, and the legislature was debating the Pledge of Allegiance," Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli said. "That allowed the Democrats to say, 'There's a fiscal crisis in our state, and the Republicans aren't doing anything about it.' "

During its 2002-2004 session, the Republican-led legislature worked on a high-profile bills to redesign the state's congressional districts and to require recitation of the pledge in schools -- both measures later voided on constitutional grounds. The legislators also focused on which magazine covers could be displayed in stores and on a resolution condemning same-sex marriage, which is already illegal here.

Ciruli noted that the sense of Republican inaction on the fiscal crisis was a key motivator for four wealthy Democrats -- medical-equipment heiress Pat Stryker and high-tech entrepreneurs Jared Polis, Tim Gill, and Rutt Bridges -- who poured $1.6 million into a Democratic fund for state legislative races that are usually run on the cheap.

Mr. Owens may have lost the first primary of '08 badly enough to take himself out of contention. But it seems unlikely that the path back to power for Democrats truly lies in becoming a Michael Dukakis-style technocrat party. The Greens or some other party would rise on their Left and capture all the ideological voters who make up their base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2004 8:46 AM

And, there's a real lesson there for the R's -- from what I can tell, they really did allow a serious fiscal problem to develop without really dealing with it, and the D's offered a solution. Maybe not the best solution, but something. Even a red state will go blue if the R's screw up.

Posted by: Twn at November 21, 2004 9:43 AM

Maybe it's not the case in Colorado, but I would also point out that some of the "fringe social issues" like gay marriage happen to be passionate center-stage issues for many partisan democrats.

Posted by: Twn at November 21, 2004 9:46 AM

Striking how the Dem party has become the party of "multimillionaires" at every level, while their rhetoric remains trapped in the 1930s.

Posted by: curt at November 21, 2004 9:50 AM

A feckless concentration on dopey cultural issues while the fiscal status of the state is crumbling is not good governance. It would appear that the Colorado GOP displayed the arrogance of entrenched power, one must hope that they were smart enough to learn their lesson.

Posted by: Bart at November 21, 2004 11:19 AM

How did the finances go south so quickly in CO? Didn't they have provisions such that spending could not increase beyond the growth rate of the state? Weren't people in CA touting CO as their model for controlling state budgeting?

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 21, 2004 12:03 PM

I'll bet that's the Tim Gill who made his fortune from Quark, the desktop publishing program.

(Quark, by the way, has the reputation for some of the worst customer service in the business.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 21, 2004 2:07 PM

The Donks ran as conservatives in Colorado. And Coors was AWOL.

Posted by: Noel at November 21, 2004 2:30 PM