Primary election 2018

Colorado primary results show signs of Democratic push

Causes include unaffiliated voters tilting left, Trump energizing Dems, pundits say

Posted 6/28/18

Is a 134,000-vote advantage enough for a “blue wave”? That's how much the Democratic votes outpaced the Republicans in the race for governor in the June 26 primary election, according to …

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Primary election 2018

Colorado primary results show signs of Democratic push

Causes include unaffiliated voters tilting left, Trump energizing Dems, pundits say


Is a 134,000-vote advantage enough for a “blue wave”?

That’s how much the Democratic votes outpaced the Republicans in the race for governor in the June 26 primary election, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. And in the first primary in Colorado history to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots, they leaned heavily for the Democratic candidates.

It happened in a race with no shortage of polarization — Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Jared Polis ran away with their parties’ governor races, Polis winning by nearly 20 percentage points and Stapleton by about 18. With Stapleton touting his support for President Donald Trump and Polis pushing for a 100 percent green-energy state by 2040, the pair focused their appeal more toward the fringe rather than moderate voters.

Only able to choose one party’s ballot by law, unaffiliated voters turned in more Democratic ballots than Republican ballots by about 25 percentage points — about a 3-to-2 ratio — based on numbers June 27 from the secretary of state.

Democrats also outnumbered Republicans among affiliated voters who participated, showing an advantage of about 6 percentage points.

“I think those two things show us a Democratic intensity right now,” said Dick Wadhams, political strategist and former chair of the Colorado Republican Party.

Asked whether the Democrats’ advantage is due to reactions to President Donald Trump or to state issues, Wadhams said, “I think it goes almost totally to opposition to President Trump within the Democratic Party.”

‘Cause for concern’

In the overall ballot count, unaffiliated voters chose the Democrat ballot over the Republican by about 65,000 — 162,700 to 97,500 — as of mid-afternoon June 27.

Registered Democrats also outpaced registered Republicans by about 53,700 ballots as of that time.

“I just have this feeling that behind some of this increase in numbers might be blowback from the irritation with the constant flow of rhetoric” from Trump, said John Straayer, former professor of political science at Colorado State University.

From immigration issues to the constant “Tweetstorm” bashing various targets, Trump may be sparking opposition that “may be lighting a fire under folks saying ‘I’ve had enough,’” Straayer said.

In some state Senate and state House races, there appears to be a “significant leap” in Democratic votes, with a marginal increase in Republican votes, compared to the 2014 primary, Straayer said.

“How that’ll wash out in the fall, I don’t know, but looking at these numbers, if I were a Republican strategist, I’d be worried,” Straayer said.

Some of the disparity in the votes for governor could be due to the Democrats having a more interesting race, said Eric Sondermann, a Colorado political analyst who founded the Denver communications agency SE2, which does marketing related to public policy and opinion.

And parties out of power “tend to have more momentum,” Sondermann said. “It doesn’t determine what’ll happen in November, but I’d rather be holding the Democratic cards than the Republican cards right now.

“It has to be cause for concern,” he added.

Unaffiliated voters gained the ability to vote in primaries after the passage of Proposition 108 in 2016. They made a sizable showing, but their influence may have only tipped close races — like attorney general for Democrats, or treasurer for Republicans, but not the governor’s race — Sondermann said. It’s difficult to know if unaffiliated voters voted differently from those registered with a party on the respective ballots because of a lack of exit polling, Sondermann said.

Looking to November

Primaries on both sides got “pretty ugly,” Straayer said. “And I expect the general election to be equally unattractive.”

It remains to be seen whether Polis, the U.S. congressman from Boulder, and Stapleton, current state treasurer, will pivot to more moderate voters, but Straayer outlined the battles the two are likely to fight.

Polis “has talked about free kindergarten and universal health care, so I suspect the Republicans will try to paint Polis as the guy who’s gonna rob your wallet,” Straayer said.

Stapleton and his party are “pretty much locked down” on a “hardcore fiscal conservative posture” that leaves little room for addressing concerns with funding for transportation, higher education, health care, K-12 school and other issues, Straayer said.

Wadhams said neither candidate can afford to keep appealing only to their bases. The candidate who can connect with voters on issues like transportation and education will win, he said.

“I think it’s up for grabs,” Wadhams added.

Polis, a wealthy businessman who founded several companies, had raised about $11.5 million in campaign funds as of June — compared to Stapleton’s $2.1 million — but Wadhams and Straayer said money won’t be a decider.

“I anticipate that Stapleton will be outspent by Polis (overall) but will still raise enough to be competitive,” Wadhams said. Straayer said the money between the candidates will likely even out as November approaches.

Polis would be the first openly gay man elected governor in the nation, and Straayer wondered if Republicans would raise that as an issue.

“It’s delicate to go after,” he said, adding it would have a “horrible boomerang effect” and would need to be “handled under the radar” if Republicans were to make Polis’ sexual orientation a point of contention.

Meanwhile, downballot ...

Phil Weiser, a former dean of the University of Colorado Law School and a former deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, appeared as if he had pulled off an unexpected and tight win against state Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton — an avowed progressive — for the Democratic candidacy for attorney general. However, Salazar, trailing by less than 1 percentage point, maintained hope for a rally as ballots continued to be counted in the days following the election.

Weiser's presumed victory “speaks to the power of money and television,” Sondermann said. “No matter how much people talk grassroots, social media, ground game — money and TV still rule.”

Weiser, who pulled an endorsement from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, may have a formidable fight ahead against 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, Wadhams said, adding that Colorado has been known to elect governors and attorneys general of opposing parties.

“These are two smart guys,” he said. “I think (Brauchler) is one of the best speakers and debaters in the Republican Party and in the state.” He was the lead prosecutor in the Aurora theater-shooting case.

For state treasurer, Democratic state Rep. Dave Young, and Republican real-estate CEO Brian Watson, managed the win — Young decisively, Watson thinly — in a race that will carry on with low name recognition.

But, Wadhams said, every treasurer in Colorado for about four decades has either ran for, or been elected to, higher office.

Treasurer may be an “obscure office,” he said, but it may be one to watch for future ambition.


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