Republican concerns are growing that Colorado is falling more and more into the hands of Democrats after recent losses and close calls in the most conservative parts of the state.
The latest blow to the GOP in the Centennial State came this week when Republicans lost a mayoral race in Colorado Springs, marking the first time in decades that a member of the party won’t preside over the conservative bastion.
That followed a surprise near upset last year when Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) nearly lost her reelection bid in one of the biggest surprises of the midterms.
The change in Colorado’s political landscape, which Republicans believe is due to a culmination of factors, comes as the party looks to retain a slim majority in its House in next year’s election.
“Across the board in Colorado, we saw a swing to the left that was unexpected” in the November midterms, said Sandra Hagen Solin, founder of the lobbying firm Capitol Solutions, which works on Republican politics.
“Historically, Colorado is a place where the people vote for the person, and you’ve split the vote a lot historically. And in this election cycle, it’s mostly been an up-and-down-the-ticket vote for of the party, for the Democrats,” he added.
Colorado Springs residents elected new politician and independent candidate Yemi Mobolade on Tuesday to lead their city over Republican Wayne Williams, a former Colorado secretary of state. This is the first time in 45 years that a Republican has not been mayor of the city.
The results of the initial 12 mayoral candidates in April showed early signs that Mobolade was leading the race, but the margin in Tuesday’s runoff showed a rare landslide victory of 15 points in a former Republican stronghold.
“It’s clear that Colorado Springs is less conservative than it used to be. When I was chairman here (of the El Paso County Republican Party) we had no Democratic state reps. Now we have three,” Williams explained after his election loss, according to in The Gazette. “So there are a lot of changes happening and I congratulate Yemi on an excellent campaign.”
While experts say that the wide margin of victory is due to several factors – Mobolade’s strong campaign, a divided GOP and the rapid development of the state, which affects cities like Colorado Springs and changes in the electoral dynamic – past election cycles have pointed to a changing political landscape for at least the last decade.
Back in 2016, former President Trump won El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs, by more than 20 points. But in 2020, Trump only won the county by 11 points. Joe O’Dea, the Republican Senate challenger who was defeated by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in the last cycle, won the county by a margin of 9 points with 55 percent of the vote there.
“That’s a loss for a Republican candidate,” former state GOP chairman Dick Wadhams said of O’Dea’s margin of victory in El Paso.
Boebert’s congressional district offers another data point. He represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers the southern and western parts of the state. In 2018, former Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), who represented the district before Boebert, won it by 8 points.
Boebert, on the other hand, won it in 2020 by 6 points and in 2022 by less than one percentage point. Democrat Adam Frisch, who is challenging Boebert during the 2022 midterms, has announced a second bid to take back the district as Republicans prepare for another competitive election.
Republicans say there are several reasons why the once-purple state of Colorado has started to turn blue in recent years. One of the reasons is the rapidly changing demographics of the state, as Colorado has seen an influx of people moving there.
Nearly 744,000 people moved to the state between 2010 and 2020, according to US Census Bureau data — a nearly 15-percent increase in a decade that doubles the nation’s growth, according to The Colorado Sun. Experts say the migration includes people from states like California, which has changed the political landscape. Those newcomers are younger.
That’s along with a surge in unaffiliated voter registration. As of November 2016, unaffiliated voters made up about 35 percent of Colorado’s eligible voters. Democrats and Republicans each made up 32 percent during that time.
But last November, unaffiliated voters made up a whopping 45 percent of voters, while Democrats made up 28 percent and Republicans made up 25 percent.
“I think it’s literally demographics that’s the biggest reason why Colorado is moving more blue. People moving into our state are more liberal, and people leaving our state in greater numbers, more you’re conservative,” said Kristi Burton Brown, who recently resigned as state GOP chairman.
Burton Brown explained that the increase in unaffiliated voters in the state is partly due to automatic voter registration. But he also suggested there is a rise in unaffiliated voters because “a lot of young people are disillusioned with how divisive politics is.”
“I think if any party can bring back more basic respect for politics and a positive vision that moves people forward instead of always saying what people are angry about, that can “g attract young people, I think, to a party,” he said.
But some experts say there is a bigger problem for Republicans, one that has hurt even some of their best candidates, like O’Dea.
“The Republican brand in this state has been damaged not only by Trump, although he is very toxic to the state, but more than that, just by their kind of taking extreme positions on previous nominees, on ballot initiatives which always loses on abortion. and some of the other issues that O’Dea can’t get out from under the brand,” said Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli.
At the same time, recent events show a divided GOP. Former Rep. of state Dave Williams, an election denier who tried to list the anti-Biden phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” as part of his name on a ballot for a House GOP primary he lost last cycle , won the state GOP election for party chair in March.
That prompted many prominent Republicans to leave the party. Hagen Solin, founder of the Capitol Solutions lobbying firm, suggested that state party leadership does not reflect what the state GOP is used to.
“We’ve had a wonderful history of Republican leadership in this state that has been pretty moderate over the years, but right now those in leadership positions within the party … don’t show a lot of moderate, pragmatic kind of tone,” he explained. “And it’s a little bit of time for us, for the Republican Party, to restore that confidence.”
In an interview with The Hill, Williams dismissed that criticism.
“These are excuses from failed Republicans who want nothing more than to support sold-out Republicans who failed us,” he explained.
“We are not here to necessarily favor one side over another, but we will never allow the failed consultants and establishment Republicans of the past to escape the blame they deserve. They are the ones who failed us,” he added. he.
Williams suggested that O’Dea did poorly in his race because “he’s not a quality candidate that people can believe.”
In the mayoral race in Colorado Springs, the former lawmaker said the first round of the mayoral race in April left the Republican candidate hurt heading into the runoff, but he also suggested that grassroots Republicans have concerns about Williams.
At the end of the day, observers say Republicans need to rebuild their brand in the state if they have any hope of succeeding in competitive House districts like the 3rd and 8th in 2024, and even winning the Senate and gubernatorial races in 2026.
“I think Republicans are in a bit of a ‘time out’ in the wilderness until they rid themselves of the Trump-MAGA brand, which could take a while,” said Democratic strategist Craig Hughes. “I think other than that, they need unique candidates with unique stories.”
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