Riding Colorado's election rollercoaster

Filed under: Opinion |

If Election 2004 was a rollercoaster, most everyone in Colorado would be a bit dizzy after those elusive “swing voters” reminded both political parties that they are truly independent.

Republicans celebrated that President Bush not only won Colorado but also became the first presidential candidate since his father in 1988 to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote nationwide.

Republicans swept all key U.S. Senate races, except here in Colorado, where the Democrats’ most-popular official, Ken Salazar, edged Pete Coors. In addition to a reputation for ticket-splitting, Colorado is rarely fertile ground for millionaires with no prior political experience – even when they’re genuinely nice guys.

Follow these Colorado numbers: President Bush polled 1,058,040 votes to John Kerry’s 944,052. For U.S. Senate, Pete Coors received almost exactly the same number of votes as Kerry, 944,520, while Ken Salazar amassed 1,023,803. So, at least 79,000 voters who chose Bush also selected Salazar.

Perhaps it goes to show that Colorado voters like a candidate who reminds them of an ordinary guy they might encounter in a cafe a couple hundred miles from Denver.

Meanwhile, Democrats won majorities in both the Colorado House and Senate for the first time in some 30 years. Democrats gained an 18-17 majority in the Senate, but their real coup came in the House where they turned a 37-28 minority into a 34-31 majority. Coloradans regularly divide the reins of power at the State Capitol, where only twice in the last 40 years has the same party held the governor’s office and controlled the Legislature.

Most observers recognized that Colorado’s new campaign finance regulations, approved by the voters in 2002, certainly tilted the field in the Democrats’ favor, but the biggest difference were the millionaires who bankrolled the Democrats’ unofficial campaigns. Democrats’ millionaires “played for keeps,” while many big-moneyed backers of Republicans played very timidly.

More election observations:

” The most successful Republicans in competitive Colorado races were President Bush and Rep. Bob Beauprez, both of whom took tough stands on certain conservative issues but also come across as down-to-earth folks who don’t have a chip on their shoulder. In the Democrat-leaning 7th Congressional District, Beauprez trounced Dave Thomas by 12 percent (131,753 to 102,187).

” Speaking of that “Colorado country common sense,” rural voters overwhelmingly rejected even the two constitutional amendments which won statewide. Although Amendment 37’s renewable energy mandate was touted as an economic benefit for rural Colorado, it lost in 42 counties. The largest counties voting “no” were El Paso, Weld, Pueblo and Mesa.

” Amendment 35 (tobacco tax) passed in 38 counties and lost in 26. The tax increased passed even in heavily Republican El Paso (57 percent) and Douglas (70 percent), but it failed in Democratic Pueblo (46 percent). In fact, Pueblo County was the largest county to defeat all four citizen initiatives and Referendum A.

State Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington) is the Senate Majority Leader. His e-mail address is mail@markhillman.com.