Republicans make strong gains in Colorado after nearly decade out of power


By Arthur Kane |

Republicans retook most major elected offices in Colorado and apparently the state Legislature, increasing GOP strength that hasn’t been seen in the state for nearly a decade. The only surprising loss was the governor’s office.

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner took the U.S. Senate seat away from incumbent Democrat Mark Udall by about 50 percent to 45 percent with most votes counted, the secretary of state website shows.

SLIGHT EDGE: Gov. John Hickenlooper is leading his Republican challenger and declared victory without his opponent conceding.

“As Republicans in Colorado, we’ve gotten used to saying wait til the next election,” Gardner told supporters Tuesday night. “Well I got news for you, that election finally happened.”

Republicans also kept three statewide offices: attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. While not official, Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer said his count shows Republicans took over both chambers of the General Assembly by as little as a one-seat margin.

If that’s true, Gov. John Hickenlooper will likely face a tough two years dealing with a Republican legislature. Hickenlooper was leading Republican challenger Bob Beauprez by about 23,000 votes with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting.

Hickenlooper declared victory Wednesday morning. Beauprez hasn’t conceded the race, though he may issue a statement later Wednesday. If the margin closes within 0.5 percent, there will be an automatic recount.

Congressional races shook out as expected with incumbents of both parties keeping their seats in mostly safe political districts, and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, R-Colo., easily taking Gardner’s House seat. Four of Colorado’s seven congressional seats remain Republican as Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff couldn’t unseat Mike Coffman.

Colorado used to lean Republican, but in the past decade GOP candidates haven’t had much success at either in top statewide or federal offices. Democrats controlled the governorship, held at least one U.S. Senate seat and often controlled both chambers of the General Assembly since the mid part of the past decade.

Straayer said this win is more about the national dislike of President Barack Obama and Democrats than a resurgence of GOP strength in Colorado.

“(Former U.S. House Speaker) Tip O’Neill said all politics are local, but with the change in campaign style, in the media and in campaign finance, all politics have become national,” he said.

Independent political analyst Eric Sondermann, who said the Colorado House might stay Democratic, agreed that 2014 was just a Republican year after nearly a decade of Democratic rule in Colorado.

“It’s part of the national context,” he said. “It’s the sixth year of the presidency. Obama is somewhat toxic. In Colorado the pendulum tends to swing very, very hard and now it swung against the Democratic side.”

Political watchers said Republicans, who were dominant in Colorado 10 years ago, suffered because of an influx of new residents — Latinos who tend to vote Democratic or transplants from liberal states like California. Republicans were also hurt by the far-right wing of their party, which pushed a radical agenda, Straayer said.

TWO STRIKES : Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez is trailing the incumbent. He also lost the governor’s race to a Democrat eight years ago.

In Tuesday night’s victory, Republicans were, in contrast, helped by a deeply liberal agenda in the last General Assembly.

“There will be commentary on whether the Democrats pushed their agenda too far, especially in the 2013 (legislative) session,” Sondermann said.

After recent mass shootings, Democrats pushed through unpopular gun control measures, which resulted in two state senators losing seats in recall elections, and Hickenlooper wavered on the decision to spare convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap’s life, which angered both death penalty supporters and opponents.

Nationally, Republicans also had a good candidate for U.S. Senate who was able to shield his far-right views behind a positive façade, Straayer said.

“He’s (U.S. Sen.) Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with a Bill Clinton persona,” Straayer said of Gardner. “Cory has done a masterful job of substituting his sunny personality for his actual voting record.”

It also appears that voters split the ticket, voting not on the issues but on personality. Gardner and Beauprez have very similar views on many issues, but incomplete results show Beauprez lost Jefferson and Araphahoe counties while Gardner won those same suburban Denver areas.

Neither Straayer nor Sondermann believes this election will shift the state political landscape back to Republicans, leaving Colorado a key battleground state.

“This state doesn’t have a working Democratic majority,” Sondermann said. “It’s not Washington State or California.”