The Burgundy State of Colorado

There’s been a lot of talk about red Colorado turning purple and heading for blue. But if you ask Tom Cronin, the state’s political landscape looks about the same as it did 16 years ago.

As detailed in an interview with Cronin in this week’s Colorado Springs Independent, how liberal can this state be, for example, when 40 percent of the people, including a good chunk of Democrats, believe in creationism – as in, “God created man in his present form all at once within the last 10,000 years”?

Back in 1990, Cronin, a political science professor at Colorado College and onetime Democratic 5th Congressional District candidate, did a statewide public opinion poll on what people thought about politics. This year, he thought it would be an interesting exercise to repeat it, with the help of Boulder-based Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy.

With 1.5 million more people living here than in 1990, Colorado bucked the national trend two years ago by electing a Democrat to the U.S. Senate and putting the donkeys in charge of the state Legislature. So, surely, opinions have changed.

Guess again. Just as in 1990, Coloradans lean toward the conservative. Only 28 percent of the people who were polled admitted they were “liberal,” compared to 41 percent who called themselves “conservative.” Registered Republicans still comprise the largest block of registered voters, with 35 percent. The unaffiliated come in second, with 31 percent; registered Democrats make up most of the remainder. We don’t trust Washington, are bored by politics and have a libertarian streak a mile long. We like our religion and our guns, and loathe the taxman.

“The typical Coloradan is not a liberal and is not a Democrat,” says Cronin.

That said, Democrats certainly can get elected to statewide office – as long as they can pass conservative muster. Take Ken Salazar, for example, who was elected to the U.S. Senate two years ago. His family has deep roots in Colorado, and he’s orthodox in his religion. Former Gov. Roy Romer was a businessman from the rural town of Holly. This year’s gubernatorial candidate, former prosecutor Bill Ritter, is conservative about his Catholicism and stands pro-life on abortion. He is also leading in the polls.

Cronin ran for the 5th CD in 1982, against then-incumbent Rep. Ken Kramer. He was endorsed by the Denver Post, got plenty of help from then-Congressman Tim Wirth and then-Gov. Dick Lamm – and walked away with 41 percent of the vote. When asked to run two years later, he simply reminded people, “I know how to count.”

That said, as outlined by Colorado Confidential last week, Cronin details five solid reasons he believes that Democrat Jay Fawcett stands a chance in this years 5th CD race in the Republican stronghold of south-central Colorado:

“First, it’s an open seat. Second, he has military experience. Third, it was an incredibly divisive Republican primary. Fourth, there is an unusual anti-Bush Administration sentiment in the country, and finally, there is Joel Hefley’s apparent disdain for the Republican nominee.

“Still, it’s an uphill battle because of the huge differential in the registration numbers (185,000 Republicans and 87,000 Democrats in El Paso County alone). Those are tremendous odds, even in a year like this.

“And what [Republican Doug] Lamborn has going for him is, there is a strong religious base here, a strong concern over immigration and, more importantly, the military support will lean to a Republican normally – even though in this case the Democrat has much stronger military qualifications.”

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