In Colorado, divided Republicans come home

State Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canyon City, updates the Colorado GOP watch party on the race to keep control of the state Senate as state Sens. John Cooke, left, Randy Baumgardner, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel look on.

Even with Colorado going blue in the presidential and Senate races, Republicans in the Centennial State had much reason to celebrate Tuesday.

Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. In Colorado, Republicans maintained control of the Colorado Senate. Amendment 69, aka ColoradoCare, crashed and burned.

But this was a state that had long been Ted Cruz country, where the Texas senator snagged all available delegates, and, in the emotion of Tuesday night’s ballot count and results, fault lines with the Colorado GOP showed.

On Tuesday night, when Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora took the stage to proclaim his victory over his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a shout of  “Trump” erupted from the crowd at the GOP’s watch party. Coffman was out front in his criticism of the now president-elect.  As he thanked his supporters, a loud contingent of the crowd shouted “Who did you vote for?”  

As expected, Trump took the Eastern Plains and Western Slope. But unofficial election results out of El Paso County, one of the most reliably Republican parts of the state, and from Pueblo County, a Democratic stronghold, suggest that whatever support Trump might have lost from longtime Republicans who went to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, he may have gained in disenchanted working-class Democrats turning their backs on Hillary Clinton.

Trump won El Paso County with 56.3 percent of the vote Tuesday, which was 3.1 percent less than Mitt Romney received in 2012. He lost to Clinton in Pueblo by only 0.3 percent. In 2012, President Barack Obama won Pueblo easily with a 13 percent margin.

Derrick Wilburn, the state party’s vice chair, said he didn’t believe the acrimony of the state’s primary would have a lasting affect on the party, a view shared by many in the party’s state leadership.

“We’re healed. Sen. Cruz came out in favor of Donald Trump. He endorsed him. He voted for him. He made it clear,” Wilburn said. “That’s yesterday’s news. It’s water under the bridge. The bottom line is Donald Trump won. And pretty handily. He beats down 16 competitors, 14 of whom were pretty seasoned politicos. He really didn’t even struggle to win the primaries. That ship has sailed. The animosity is over with. This is now a Trump state and any attempt to paint it as otherwise is just trying to blow on glowing embers.”

Regina Serna, a Trump supporter at the GOP watch party in a hotel ballroom at the Tech Center in downtown Denver, said Trump’s appeal and success did not come from his party affiliation but rather what he represented: a change from both major parties.

“I’m very excited about this and knew it was going to happen because America is frustrated with both parties. Trump doesn’t represent the Republican Party, he represents the people of the United States,” Serna said. Pundits, she added, “didn’t understand what people were frustrated about and people voted their frustration.”

Dustin Fritts, an ironworker at the watch party, said Colorado’s Republican leadership — as well as the party’s leaders in Washington — would do well to heed the demands of Trump supporters. A good start, he said, would be for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to step down.

“He’s not a conservative. He doesn’t care. He’s Obama’s whipping dog and I don’t like him at all,” Fritts said. “He’s not a supporter of anyone not in the establishment. This year was the first time I didn’t vote for a Republican senator. I voted against Darryl Glenn. … He’s a RINO. I don’t like his attitude. I didn’t like the way he talked about Trump.”

Colorado GOP Chair Steve House said any animosity that may have lingered after the primary would fade as Republicans worked on passing their agenda. And he predicted Trump would recognize his lack of legislative experience and would work hand-in-hand with the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

“Trump will lay out the overall vision and the Legislature will work to put it in place and make it a reality,” House said.

Celeste Gamache, a Cruz supporter in the primaries, said while she didn’t support Trump initially, it was time for every Republican to back the next president.

“I think this win will smooth a lot over. I think there’s still some things the state party has to work out but going forward,” Gamache said. “I think people will see we have to come together as a party and work together to make America great.”

State Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, had backed Cruz in the primaries but backed Trump in the general. While he had expressed disappointment after Trump took the nomination, he said the important thing to remember is that the U.S. system of governance has checks and balances in place on any president, Republican or Democrat.

As election workers were still counting ballots in some areas, Grantham said what he witnessed was a coalescence of the Republican Party around its nominee.

“I think in the end we’ll be fine,” he said. “Naysayers will say all they want about the death of the party but the fact of the matter is that watching results on the screen, it’s not the death of the party.”

In four years, he said, another presidential contest will be held “where the people can hold him accountable. … There’s always a fail safe in there somewhere.”


Photo by Ramsey Scott. 

State Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canyon City, updates the Colorado GOP watch party on the race to keep control of the state Senate as Republicans including state Sens., John Cooke, left, Randy Baumgardner, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel look on.