Democrats now control 60% of the seats in Colorado’s state house, 57% of the seats in the state senate, 57% of Colorado’s U.S. House of Representative seats, and 50% of its U.S. Senate seats. Bill Ritter won his race with 56% of the vote. This blue shift in Colorado’s politics has been built on gains in middle class suburbs, urban areas of small cities, tourism oriented areas, and rural counties near Colorado’s border with New Mexico.Governor-Elect Bill Ritter, a Democrat, won every county won by John Kerry or Ken Salazar in 2004, and in nine counties won by neither man. Ritter solidified Democratic gains in rural Southern Colorado, Colorado’s tourism oriented “rural” counties, the first ring Denver suburbs, Fort Collins and Greeley.
Like other Democratic politicians who have sought statewide office in Colorado, Ritter failed to win over majorities in greater Colorado Springs, the Denver-Colorado Springs suburbs of Douglas County, exurban counties, and rural counties that are neither close to New Mexico, nor tourism oriented, with one quirky exception.
In Colorado in 2006, Democrats picked up 1 U.S. House seat, 2 state senate seats, and 4 state representative seats. No seats previously held by Democrats were picked up by Republicans. Of the seven legislative pickups, four were in Denver suburbs, one was in Fort Collins, one was in urban Colorado Springs/tourism oriented Manitou Springs, and one was in central Southern Colorado largely on the strength of support in tourism oriented counties and a couple of rural Southern Colorado counties in the San Luis Valley.
Democrats also held on to their strong leads in urban Democratic party strongholds like Denver, Boulder and Pueblo.
Where did Democrats make gains?
Democrat Bill Ritter won majority support in Adams County, Araphahoe County, Jefferson County and the City and County of Broomfield over Republican Bob Beauprez (who previously represented the 7th Congressional District made up of Denver’s Northern suburbs). Ken Salazar also won these counties as well in his Senate bid, but George W. Bush edged out John Kerry in all of these counties except Adams County which supported Kerry by a modest margin.
Democrat Ed Perlmutter made a solid pickup of the 7th Congressional District. The 7th Congressional District comprises most of the Northern suburbs of Denver in Adams and Jefferson counties, many of which are working class and middle class first ring suburbs of the city. The district includes all or part of “Original Aurora”, Commerce City, Brighton, Westminster, Thornton, Arvada and Wheat Ridge.
Three of Democrats state house pickups also included Denver suburbs.
Democrat Sara Gagliardi narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Bill Crane in the 27th House District, a district that includes much of the middle class Jefferson County suburb of Arvada.
Democrat Dianne Primavera defeated incumbent Republican Bill Berens in the 33rd House District, a district that includes suburban Broomfield County (between Boulder and Denver), suburban parts of Boulder County, some of the Northern suburbs of Denver in Adams County, and Weld County where Greeley is the county seat.
Democrat Joe Rice defeated Republican Matt Dunn in the 38th House District, one previously held by Republican Joe Stengle, in Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties, including Littleton.
Taken as a whole, these gains show a picture of Democrats that are connecting better with suburban voters.
Fort Collins, Greeley and Colorado Springs
Bill Ritter won both Larimer County, home to Fort Collins, and Weld County, home to Greeley, counties home to cities with a small town feel that support neighboring rural areas. George W. Bush won both counties soundly in 2004. Ken Salazar picked up Larimer County, but not Weld County. Like most Democrats he did better in the cities and in rural areas.
Democrat John Kefalas defeated incumbent Republican Bob McCluskey in the 52nd House District in Fort Collins, another urban district within a fairly conservative region of the state.
Ritter didn’t manage to take El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, but Democrat John Morse soundly defeated incumbent Republican Ed Jones in this urban Colorado Springs District (which is also home to the tourism oriented community of Manitou Springs), the only one of the four El Paso County State Senate Districts held by a Democrat. The other three El Paso County districts are rural and surban in character.
These gains mirror those in suburban Denver.
In part, these gains are attributable to the fact that fast growing Larimer and Weld counties used to be predominantly rural areas, each with a small city supporting them. Now, many of those rural areas have been filled out with suburbs serving both expanding local urban areas, and serving as bedroom communities for middle income and working class people who work in Denver, but can’t afford to buy a house there.
The win in El Paso County reflects both Democratic strength in urban districts, and an increasing tendency of tourism oriented communities, like Manitou Springs and many of the ski resort towns in the mountains, that Democrats are better on issues important to them, like protecting the environment.
Rural Southern Colorado
Rural Southern Colorado (including the San Luis Valley and Pueblo), home to both Colorado Senator Ken Salazar and Colorado Congressman John Salazar, used to be part of Mexico, and shares much of its political culture with neighboring New Mexico. Democrats are increasingly regaining dominance in this part of the state.
Democrat John Salazar won the 3rd Congressional District two years ago in this climate, and held his seat in 2006 against a contender from the Western Slope, another part of the moderately Republican leaning 3rd Congressional District, on the strength of his moderate political stands and the general tendency of voters nationwide to favor Democrats this year.
Bill Ritter won every single county in this region, despite the fact that many are rural areas, including Archuleta County, Hinsdale County and Otero County, two Southern Colorado counties that Ken Salazar failed to win. John Salazar also won all of these counties this year. The only Southern Colorado counties John Kerry won were Costilla, Las Animas, La Plata, Pueblo and Sagauche.
Also, Democrat Gail Schwartz defeated incumbent Republican Lewis Entz in the 5th State Senate District. This district includes but rural Southern Colorado counties like Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Hinsdale, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache, and tourism oriented mountain counties like Chaffee, Gunnison and Pitkin County (home to Aspen). It also includes rural Western Slope Delta county.
Schwartz won by large margins in the tourism oriented Gunnison and Piktin Counties, came just a few votes behind her Republican challenger in Chaffee county, which also has a tourism influence, and also won in two of the Southern Colordo Counties in the district, Saguache and Costilla, all of the counties she won were also won by John Kerry. The remaining rural counties went to Entz by health margins.
Tourism Oriented Counties
In addition to wins of Democrats Gail Schwartz and John Morse, in part on the strength of Democrats in Colorado’s tourism oriented areas, Bill Ritter won every county in Colorado with a strong tourism influence except Park County, where Beauprez pulled off a single percentage point lead over Ritter.
Tourism gives these counties a more urban character than other rural counties with similar populations, and also makes them more oriented towards environmental issues. These counties have long been competitive for Democrats in Colorado, and this year, Democrats swept these areas.
These include the counties like Chaffee, Clear Creek, Eagle (Vail), Garfield (Aspen influenced), Gilpin, Grand, Gunnison, Lake, Ouray (Telluride influenced), Pikin (Aspen), Routt (Steamboat), San Juan (Telluride) and Summit (Breckenridge).
In this group of counties, Chaffee, Grand and Ouray counties all went to Ritter, even though both Ken Salazar and John Kerry had failed to win them in their respective races in 2004. John Kerry also failed to win Garfield county.
Sedgwick County is a rural Eastern Plains state in the Northeast corner of Colorado. It favored Bush over Kerry by 971-374 votes. It favored Pete Coors over Ken Salazar by 800-512 votes. This year Marilyn Musgrave won 682 votes in the county, Angie Paccione won 359 votes, and Eric Eidness won 106 votes. Republican Greg Brophey was favored in his State Senate race by 771 to 341 over the Democrat, and House District 65, which includes the county, was one of the only state house races in which Democrats did not field a candidate.
Yet, Bill Ritter was different. Sedgwick County favored him over Bob Beauprez by 575-568 votes, the only Democrat running for state or national office to prevail in the stoutly Republican county. Why?