By Benjamin Neufeld
A note of tension pervaded the atmosphere of the Colorado Democrats election night watch party early in the evening of November 8. Guests and speakers projected an image of confidence—a sense of assumed victory—riding the wave of a decades-long leftward political trend in the state. State Senator James Coleman, one of the first political figures to address the crowd and heavy media presence, told voters and organizers, “we’ve put in the work.” Attendees had come to the watch party to see that hard work pay-off.
Still—amid two years of democratic control at the national level, more at the state level, and with the nation shackled by numerous issues related to the economy, public health, climate change related natural disasters, and more—a whisper of caution wavered in the Democrat’s projection of optimism. Colorado was considered a red state until relatively recently. This election cycle, Republicans had been holding onto hope that the state might still be considered purple. As the evening continued and the votes came in, that hope evaporated as Colorado settled into its blue state identity. Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats celebrated their continued hold on a state government trifecta, highlighted what they have been able to accomplish since taking that trifecta in 2018, and built excitement for continuing that progress.
In the race for governor, Heidi Ganahl had sold herself as one of the only Republicans with a chance of unseating Polis. Ganahl is the last and most recent Republican party member to have won a state-wide election in Colorado after she was elected to one of two At Large seats on the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 2016. Early in her campaign, she spent some time avoiding questions about her opinion on the validity of the 2020 presidential election. However, she ultimately ran a somewhat standard pre-Trump Republican campaign—hoping to appeal to moderates and Trump-wary right-wingers. On election night Ganahl won only 39.6% of the vote.
In the Colorado Senate seat race, Joe O’Dea ran an even more moderate campaign in an effort to unseat Democratic Senate incumbent Michael Bennet. Up until just 2020, Colorado had split representation in the Senate between Bennett and Republican Cory Gardner. Gardner supported President Trump during impeachment proceedings; Trump even hosted fundraising events with Gardner in Colorado during the 2020 election season. O’Dea and his Republican allies seemed to premise their campaign on the idea that anti-Trump Republicans were still viable candidates in Colorado. According to coloradopolitics.com Mitch McConnell was reportedly “all-in” on O’Dea. The National Review called him the GOP’s “best shot in Colorado.” Regardless, Colorado voters were unenthused by O’Dea’s centrist policies, with him winning just 41.7% of the vote.
Colorado’s newly created and solidly purple 8th congressional district went to Democrat Yadira Caraveo after Republican opponent Barbara Kirkmeyer conceded the race on November 9.
With the results of election night indicating Colorado’s clear graduation from swing-state status, the question is no longer, “Is Colorado a blue state?” but, “just how blue?”
Democrats in Colorado’s upper levels of government maintain many moderate positions. Governor Polis has a reputation for supporting libertarian policies. He supports “putting the state on a path to reach 100% renewable energy.” However, not until 2040—a much later deadline than what climate change experts recommend. He has proposed eliminating state income tax. Earlier this year, he threatened to veto a bill which would allow rent control for mobile homes.
Despite the moderate policies of Polis and other figures like Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper; Colorado Democrats have a significant progressive faction. Bernie Sanders won the Colorado primary elections in both 2016 and 2020. U.S. Representative Joe Neguse has worked closely with prominent progressive figures like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Neguse was also one of the original sponsors of the Green New Deal. Progressive activist Elisabeth Epps recently won her election for state representative in HD6. She joins other progressives such as Leslie Herod and Emily Sirota in the state legislature.
As Colorado continues to trend toward the left, Republicans may all-but disappear from the conversation as the divide between moderate and progressive Democrats takes the political spotlight.
Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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