Relying primarily on historical patterns in voting behavior and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, most analysts predicted a red wave would wash up in the November 2022 election, bringing many more Republicans into office.
But the expected voter reaction against the presidency of the Democrat Biden did not materialize. A blue maelstrom, hard to see but powerful, elected or re-elected many Democrats to office instead.
Every election has its surprises. Few of us expected the Colorado Democrats to win as strongly as they did last Tuesday’s election.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis was easily re-elected with 57% of the vote, as was US Senator Michael Bennet with 54%. The Democrats took the newly added “swing” 8th congressional district northeast of Denver in a close race.
Polis even gained 48% of Republican El Paso County. That’s double the number of Democrats in that district, indicating that a large proportion of independents voted for Polis.
No one thought that outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and MAGA cheerleader Lauren Boebert could be on the verge of losing her seat in Congress in western Colorado, but the outcome of that race is in doubt as of this writing. Her opponent, Adam Frisch, objected to her “fear” approach to her job.
Republican optimists hoped that Republicans would win at least two or three seats in both houses of the state legislature. Instead, they lost some seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Progressives generally prevailed on statewide voting issues. For example, Colorado voters approved more funding for affordable housing, much more funding for free public school meals, and approved the legalization of certain psychedelic plants for counseling and related therapy purposes. The Conservatives won a victory by cutting state income taxes by a small amount.
What helps us understand what happened in last week’s Colorado election?
Colorado has slowly but surely transitioned from a predictably red Republican state to a solid blue Democratic state. In the late 20th century, it was Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan who gave the state its distinct GOP reputation. In addition, the legislature was regularly controlled by Republicans for nearly two generations.
That began to change with the anti-Watergate election of 1974, when Colorado voters punished Republicans for breaking into the Democrats’ headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington. In this landmark election, Democrat Richard Lamm was elected Governor of Colorado, Democrat Gary Hart was elected to the US Senate, and Democrat Tim Wirth was elected to the US House of Representatives for the first time.
Lamm proved a popular three-term governor, as did his successor Roy Romer of the Democratic Party. In the 21st century, former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was also a popular Democratic governor.
In 2008 and again in 2012, Democratic President Barack Obama was a big voter in Colorado, winning the state with comfortable majorities both times. Meanwhile, a progressive Bernie Sanders cult developed within the Democratic Party in Colorado, which was particularly popular with younger voters.
Trump’s rise in the Republican Party has hurt the Colorado GOP. Trump won the 2016 electoral college presidential election but failed to win Colorado, and as such was of little help to state and local candidates for elected office.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Colorado voters responded to Trump’s first two years in the White House by electing Democrats to all four of Colorado’s major offices — governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. Newly elected governor Polis told news media on election night that anti-Trump sentiment was a big part of his victory.
Trump lost Colorado a second time in the 2020 presidential election. Once again, there were no presidential laps to help Republican candidates further down the ballot.
Trump shares responsibility for what happened to Colorado Republicans last Tuesday. He began by urging supporters to march on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost. He campaigned in the 2022 election for Republican candidates who backed his denial of the 2020 presidential outcome. He seemed more obsessed with his own political destiny than with Republican issues and candidates. He may have helped JD Vance win elections in conservative Ohio, but many of those he supported this year either lost or narrowly won.
Colorado voters were undoubtedly influenced by the US Supreme Court’s abortion-rights decision. Polls in this state have a strong preference for the Roe v. Wade, which was overturned by the court earlier this year.
Another factor that has swayed voters this year is that Colorado’s economy is particularly resilient. Unemployment is at an all time low and Colorado continues to attract new citizens and businesses.
Colorado residents were and obviously are unhappy with high inflation, but Republicans have not been particularly effective at talking about how their economic policies would improve the situation at the state or national level.
2022 will be remembered as a good year for incumbents in Colorado and across the country. Incumbents typically benefit from more notoriety, more money, and more experience. That seemed to be the case here and elsewhere.
The Republicans nominated a number of good candidates. Pam Anderson, the GOP’s nominee for secretary of state, has built a solid reputation as district secretary. But she still lost. Barbara Kirkmeyer campaigned vigorously and competently for the 8th congressional district, but lost in a close race.
Republican nominee for governor Heidi Ganahl deserved credit for vigorously questioning Polis on important state issues such as high crime rates in major cities. It forced Polis to promise voters that in his second term he would make Colorado one of the 10 safest states in the nation.
This is the art of voting. Accountability is increased, and incumbents must declare or promise to do better.