Colorado's GOP Bloodbath, Explained
Yesterday in Colorado, voters rejected numerous proposed taxes and government regulations. One of the biggest was Proposition 112, which was an anti-fracking measure that would have outlawed fracking in much of the state. That failed, with 57 percent voting no.
Meanwhile, a proposed tax to fund government schools — for the children! — failed with 55 percent voting no. Two separate new taxes to fund new transportation projects failed with neither mustering more than 40 percent approval. There was a pro-hemp-industry measure, which passed with 60 percent approval, which is designed to allow more expansion for hemp businesses. 66 percent also voted against new proposed limits on campaign funds. Nor did voters look kindly on an effort to reduce the minimum age for serving in the state legislature to 21 (it's currently 25).The "youth vote" strikes out yet again.
So looking at these pro-business, anti-tax, anti-youth vote results, one might think, "golly, those Republicans must have done pretty well in Colorado!"
Last night's election was an absolute bloodbath for the GOP in Colorado.
The same voters who voted to defeat all statewide tax increases also voted to elect Democrats to every single statewide office, including Governor, AG, and Treasurer. The Dems maintained control of the House, and they managed to flip a few seats to get control of the Senate.
With the governor, it wasn't especially close. Jared Polis won with 52 percent, but his opponent, Walker Stapleton, couldn't even muster more than 45 percent. He performed more poorly than all other statewide GOP candidates, all of whom got 47 percent.
With Polis at the top of the ticket, and with Stapleton as such an embarrassingly weak candidate, this hurt the rest of the GOP candidates.
But how could an electorate so opposed to taxes vote for so many Democrats? The answer is that Democrats ran as fiscally responsible moderates, while Republicans largely ran as conservative culture warriors.
This could be seen in the campaign ads of the two gubernatorial candidates. Stapleton, who should ask for his money back from his campaign advisors, ran with the tag line "A conservative who gets things done!" Stapleton should have asked his advisors when was the last time anyone won the governor's mansion playing up his conservatism. The answer is maybe one time: 2002, when incumbent Bill Owens crushed hard-left candidate Rollie Heath.
When Owens ran the first time, though, his campaign had a laser-like focus on three things: increase infrastructure spending, lower taxes, increase school accountability. The end. He avoided talking about anything else. And he won with a less-than-one-percent margin in the 1998 race.
Using that sort of simple approach, Owens remains the only Republican to win the governorship since John Love back in the 1960s. And Love was no "conservative." He signed one of the nation's most expansive pro-abortion statutes at the time.
Since then, when Democrats run as moderates — as was the case with Roy Romer (1987-1999) and John Hickenlooper (2011-2019) — they win.
And Polis ran as a moderate. I know this because I live in a core city (i.e., not the suburbs), which means the marketing consultants assume I'm likely to vote Democrat. So, I was fed Polis ads before pretty much every YouTube video I've seen in the past two months. I can even quote from memory Polis's tag line: "Jared Polis: saving you money!"
And who's going to vote against that? Had I been less cynical, given the content of the ads, I probably would have concluded, "this Polis guy sure sounds reasonable!" What Polis certainly did not do was say "Jared Polis: a liberal who fights for reform!" or something like that. It would have been disastrous.
In fact, the anti-Polis ads said Polis was "too radical for Colorado." The problem is, few non-Republicans believed it. This is especially the case since Polis's Congressional career was, as far as Washington politicians go, not especially terrible.
Moreover, Polis was helped by how awful a candidate Walker Stapleton was. If you assumed that someone named "Walker Stapleton" was from the manicured lawns of a manse in Connecticut, you would be right. Stapleton is a cousin of George W. Bush, and while he is the grandson of a five-term mayor of Denver, Stapleton is not from Colorado. He moved to Colorado just six years before he decided to run for statewide political office and begin his march toward his rightful place — in his mind — at the top of Colorado's political establishment. Worse yet, his mayor grandfather is largely notable for being a high-ranking Klansman. And while you might say "gee, a man shouldn't be punished for who his grandfather was," it was just one more thing that made Stapleton's biography so un-compelling.
Polis, by the way, is fabulously wealthy, and while he was born rich, he has managed to cultivate an image (accurately or not) of being someone who turned a small fortune into a large fortune in mundane industries like the greeting card and florist industries. In Colorado, no one begrudges people with self-made riches. But wealthy carpetbaggers from east-coast political families don't fare quite so well.
Polis's riches, though, allowed him to spend massively on political ads, which is why even people like me saw hundreds of those ads telling us what a reasonable, fiscally responsible fellow he is. Stapleton, meanwhile, spent time talking about his conservatism and "sanctuary cities" and other things few Coloradans have ever cared about. (I suppose there's some comfort for the GOP in the fact that even with all his spending, Polis still only got 52 percent.)
But, if you seek victory as a Colorado candidate, offer the voters tax cuts, offer the voters shiny new roads (paid for without tax increases). But whining about immigrants never did much to win anyone statewide office around here. This isn't Trump country. It's not the Bible Belt (and never has been). But as the voter-initiative results showed, most Coloradans aren't fans of taxes or commie rhetoric about business owners. One would think that's a fairly easy winning formula to figure out.
It's unknown if the state GOP will ever get its act together again and run some decent candidates, but one might note that the voters of Maryland just re-elected a Republican governor. If a Republican can win in Maryland of all places, what does that tell us about the Colorado GOP?