Pick your adjective to describe the Democratic tsunami in Colorado Tuesday — huge, monumental, colossal, ginormous — and I promise I can top it.
This wasn’t just your ordinary crush-the-opposition victory for the Democrats. This was very possibly the greatest election night ever for Democrats in Colorado.
There was 1974, the Watergate year, the Gary Hart year. And 2006 was pretty startling, the year when Republicans, who were dominating Colorado politics, first saw their hold on the state begin to slip. And now this night. This night.
This was a night when Jared Polis took the stage to loud speakers blaring Dylan’s “Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call,” and no one in the room seemed to doubt that the times really were a-changin’.
“If (Phil) Weiser wins, it may be the biggest Democratic election night of my lifetime,” Alan Salazar told me. I figured Salazar, Michael Hancock’s chief of staff and a long-time Dem strategist who has worked for nearly every notable Colorado Dem, would know.
And, of course, Weiser did win the race for attorney general over George Brauchler. And Democrats swept all the down-ballot races. Those offices — secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general — typically go to Republicans in Colorado, nearly as reliably as the governor’s seat goes to Democrats.
Then I bumped into Mike Johnston — it was that kind of night — who told me he had been talking about this very thing with Roy Romer.
“Roy told me he couldn’t remember a time when Democrats held all the constitutional statewide offices and both houses of the legislature,” Johnston said. “And he’s 90.”
Actually, it apparently did happen in 1936, 1916 and 1912, but you get the idea.
So now the question is whether Colorado, the ultimate swing state, is still a purple state. The obvious answer, in the short term, would be no. I mean, how much more blue can you get? But the real answer is, well, it’s complicated.
I think if there’s anything we’ve learned in Colorado politics this campaign season, it’s that we no longer fit neatly into the red vs. blue dynamic. We’re not alone there, as we saw Democrats take back the U.S. House in a rebuke of Trump, but in Colorado, we are now clearly a Trumpist orange vs. blue state.
And so the Dems’ big night went, with Trumpism the clear loser.
It wasn’t just the Jared Polis victory that put Republicans on their heels. He was heavily favored, after all. It was the enormity of everything else that happened.
Democrats took back the state Senate to control both houses of the legislature and give Polis a path forward for much of his agenda. Jason Crow crushed the forever-uncrushable Mike Coffman to win the 6th Congressional District seat. And Joe Neguse became the first African-American to represent Colorado in Congress, taking Polis’ old seat.
Polis ran a very effective campaign. Yes, he had the money, so much money, but he used it well. He undercut Stapleton’s too-radical, too-extreme argument by refusing to seem too radical or too extreme. But it’s hard to see what Republicans could have done to stop him, short of seceding from TrumpWorld. According to the AP VoteCast exit poll, Trump’s approval rating in Colorado is way underwater at 42-to-58 percent.
Give Republicans some credit. They did manage to nominate an establishment candidate for governor in Stapleton. No Dan Maes. No Tom Tancredo. But it didn’t matter. Stapleton wasn’t a good campaigner, and the odds were stacked against him in any case, particularly once he embraced Trump and Tancredo during the primary election. By the final week, Polis was calling Stapleton “Trump’s yes man,” just to be sure he had clinched the deal.
That leaves the Republicans with Cory Gardner as a U.S. senator and the only Republican to hold statewide office. When Gardner won four years ago, beating incumbent Mark Udall, it seemed that he had invented a way forward for Republicans in Colorado. Now, he’s the last line of defense. And in 2020, when he presumably runs for re-election, he’ll be running on the same ticket as Trump.
And it’s worse than that. Gardner is tied to the hip to Republican leadership in the Senate. And Republican leadership fully endorses whatever madness and ugliness Trump promotes. Gardner may be a very clever politician, but it’s hard to see any way he can rid himself of Trump by 2020. Coffman tried desperately and was clobbered for his troubles.
And Democrats will be hot for Gardner’s Senate seat. I mentioned Mike Johnston earlier. He’s likely to run for the nomination, and even though he finished third in the Democratic primary for governor, he came out of the race in very good shape. And then there’s the Hickenlooper question. My guess is that Hick’s quest for the presidency is, to be kind, a long shot and that, when he comes home, Democrats will be pushing him for a showdown against Gardner.
But that’s for another day.
For this day, there’s Jared Polis, who is, of course, the state’s first openly gay governor. It’s a big deal and it’s not a big deal, which says good things about Colorado. Polis’ sexuality was never a factor in the race. And maybe the best moment of the Democrats’ wild night was when Polis introduced his husband, Marlon Reis, as the “first First Man of Colorado.”
At the introduction, the crowd at the victory party went more than slightly nuts. And no wonder. It affirmed the notion that Colorado, despite its shameful Amendment 2 anti-gay past, is a far different state now. And more than that, this election showed Colorado’s complete rejection of TrumpWorld, that dark place in which a president closes out his midterm campaign with words of fear, hostility and bigotry. Blue, purple, orange or whatever, Coloradans weren’t listening.