DIVIDE, CO — In this blink-and-you-might-miss-it town of fewer than 200 about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs, the mood on the eve of the presidential election is not so divided. People here in rural, conservative Teller County either like Donald Trump or they don’t like Hillary Clinton.
After a week of Democrats leading in early voting across Colorado, Republicans on Monday surged ahead by about 7,000 mailed-in ballots statewide. Plenty of those ballots came from small towns like Divide.
That surge, said the state’s Republican Party chairman Steve House in a weekend email, has “sent Democrats into a panic in Colorado.”
Panic might be an overstatement. Consider: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will be campaigning for Clinton elsewhere before Election Day, an indication Democrats feel there are closer calls at play.
But in recent days, as polls tightened in Colorado after FBI Director James Comey brought the Clinton email scandal back to life, Democrats ramped up their ground game, fanning canvassers across cities and suburbs and hitting up voters on digital devices. They come to your door, or they come in text messages: “Hey there … The election is so close! Can I count on you to vote for Hillary?” The Clinton campaign, which pulled its ads off Colorado TV screens in the summer, put its commercials here back on the air.
In the last 72 hours at rallies and in speeches across the state, Clinton surrogates have focused on the importance of mailing in ballots and urging friends and neighbors to do the same.
Along the densely populated Front Range, the presidential campaigns have gone full bore. Democrats dispatched Clinton surrogates Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders to speak in Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Pueblo.
At a packed Saturday afternoon rally at Colorado College, Sanders touted the state as a battleground. “My own gut feeling is this is going to be a very close election,” he said. “It could well be that the candidate who wins Colorado and the electoral votes here will become the president of the United States.”
For their part, Republicans sent retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and ex- New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as surrogates for Trump to Denver’s suburban battlegrounds. Trump himself flew in for a late-night Saturday rally in Denver.
On Friday, Colorado Republicans, who have less of a ground game field operation this year than the Democrats, took a day off from hammering Clinton in mail pieces to take aim at the press.
Opened my mailbox just now and boom! Right in the face. pic.twitter.com/YflFYzg6ev
— Corey Hutchins (@CoreyHutchins) November 4, 2016
On the Monday before the election, here in the town of Divide, a place seemingly untouched by a political campaign— virtually no signs appear in yards or along the highway— plenty of people said they had no desire to talk about what might happen Tuesday. The few who did said they already voted Trump.
Outside the Divide Post Office, John Graves, dressed in jeans and a camouflage ball cap and sporting white sideburns, already cast his ballot. He moved to this small town from Pennsylvania to help out his son who is in the military, just went through a divorce, and has three children.
“Gramma and grandpa are now chief cook and bottle washer while he’s trying to be the best he can be,” Graves said. A hunter, he fears his Second Amendment right is at stake.
If Trump wins tomorrow, Graves says he expects a big change.
“If he doesn’t, ahh, we might go down the tubes,” he said with a chuckle.
Teller County was once dubbed one of the top 10 most heavily armed counties in the nation, a local statistic proudly noted by Chad Cramer, 42, as he sat in his pickup truck while on break from his job at the Divide Venture Foods grocery store. A Ron Paul sticker from 2008 was still on his back windshield.
Colorado is a swing state, Cramer acknowledges— he already voted for Trump— but he sees things here getting bluer. He recalls when Democrats controlled the legislature in 2013 and passed new gun safety laws banning magazines that carry more than 15 rounds.
“I never thought that would happen here in Colorado,” he said. “That shocked the heck out of me. This state is not as red as it used to be.”
In Colorado, voters haven’t chosen a Republican for president since George W. Bush in 2004. They have not elected a GOP governor since Bill Owens in 2002. While the legislature has flipped back and forth since then, the Democrats could take full control by winning just one state Senate seat tomorrow on Election Day.
If the Democrats win and put Clinton in the White House, Cramer will brace for changes in his life. He’s paying for his own health insurance and says premiums are already going up. And, of course, he said he worries about his guns.
“She’s anti-gun, I don’t care what she says, I can go back and find her real quotes, I can find Wikileaks emails about what she really stands for on the Second Amendment,” he said. “She can say whatever she wants on the debate stage and tell her people whatever she wants, but I’m a pretty strong believer that she’s anti-gun and wanting to disarm the people.”
During the campaign season, Cramer said he did not do any volunteer work to help Trump or other Republicans in Colorado. But he did spend the election cycle posting items about Clinton on Facebook he felt like media were ignoring. He didn’t switch out the Ron Paul sticker on his truck for one for Trump because he worried about parking near downtown Colorado Springs and finding a flat tire or his door scratched with a car key. Cramer said there is some “friction,” about supporting Trump.
Three days ago in Denver, vandals defaced the wall of Trump’s downtown headquarters.
— Colleen Ferreira (@ColleenFerreira) November 4, 2016
In September, police jailed a 21-year-old Jefferson County man for sending a Trump-supporting state senator up for re-election in his district a graphic death threat over Facebook. Last week an arsonist torched a Denver resident’s Trump sign, endangering a neighborhood.
Indeed, the mood during this election season has not been particularly uplifting — across the nation or in Colorado.
Young voters here have lamented the choices at the top of their ballots, saying the election feels like a joke.
“I’ve waited 19 years and this is what I’ve got to decide from?” one CSU Pueblo student told The Colorado Independent. Meanwhile, the state’s largest voting bloc, unaffiliated voters who number more than 1.3 million, have been casting fewer ballots than members of the two major parties in the lead up to Election Day.
Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, says the numbers indicate those voters might not intend to cast ballots at all.
What’s more, in interviews this year, plenty of voters didn’t want to see their full names appear in stories discussing the election because of how controversial politics has become.
Some of them are in Divide, like Leanne, a self-employed Woodland Park resident carrying a yoga mat to her car outside a community center on Monday.
“My own adult children, they’ve been divided on what to do,” she said. “My daughter didn’t even vote for a president because she couldn’t decide. She’s 30, she’s down in Durango.”
Or they are business owners like a shopkeeper in Pueblo who said she worried about putting a campaign sign in her downtown antique store window because she might lose half her customers.
And they are people like a woman in the parking lot of Divide’s Pikes Peak Community Club on Monday who declined to talk to a reporter about the Bernie Sanders sticker on the back of her car.
“This town,” she said, “is too small.”