Colorado Democrats giddy over Obama, Statehouse wins

The Colorado Statesman

When the Associated Press called Colorado’s nine electoral votes for President Barack Obama on Tuesday night — swinging the election to the Democrat and cementing the state’s decisive role in national politics — an already ecstatic crowd in downtown Denver erupted in even more deafening cheers.

Riding a wave of strong support from the state’s Latinos, women and younger voters, Obama won Colorado with 1,252,679 votes, or 51.23 percent, over Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 1,135,403 votes, or 46.44 percent. In 2008 Obama carried the state by a wider margin, roughly 9 points, only the second time in the last four decades that a Democrat has won the state.

For the second election in a row, Colorado was the state whose voters had tipped the presidency, according to a statistical analysis released a couple days later, but all that the hundreds of Obama supporters overflowing a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Denver knew was that they had won, and it felt terrific.

President Obama asks a crowd estimated at 20,000 to help him win a second term at a campaign rally on Nov. 4 at the Community College of Aurora.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I look out over this crowd — this is America, in all its diversity and all its wonder, its rainbow of colors, said a jubilant U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, taking the stage after the election had been called. “The nation looks to Colorado because our politics work, we work together to move our country forward.”

Udall raised his arms and encouraged the hoopla.

“We’re going to celebrate long tonight, because tomorrow we’re going to be right back at work making sure we build this country from the middle out, that we treat everybody with dignity, and that we have Barack Obama’s back like he’s had our back for the last four years,” he said, his words nearly lost amid the cheers.

Obama campaign state director Carrie Doyle applauds the campaign’s Colorado field director Gabriel Lifton-Zoline, crediting him for organizing for the biggest political machine the state has ever seen, at an election night watch party on Nov. 6 at the Sheraton Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

About two miles away, a stunned and increasingly somber gathering of Romney supporters grappled with defeat in a race they had been confidant Republicans would win.

“Tonight we share in victory, we share in races that we wish would have gone the other way,” said U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, claiming a win in his own campaign for a second term before a smaller crowd on the club level at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Obama strategist Craig Hughes, U.S. Sen Michael Bennet and University of Denver professor Seth Masket talk moments after Colorado was declared for Obama on election night at the state Democrats' watch party on Nov. 6 at the Sheraton Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“But this Republican Party will remain a strong party, and we will remain a strong Republican state for the reasons that we hold dear, values that make us strong: belief in the individual, belief in individual responsibility, and the knowledge that when we get government out of the way and let America work, we will move this country forward. And so, tonight, our work is just beginning,” Gardner said. “We will not give in, we will not let go, because the people in this room, the future of this country, the people of Colorado and this nation deserve better.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — a former U.S. senator and attorney general for Colorado — and Serena Woods, the Colorado Women Vote Director for the Obama campaign, rally volunteers at a final get-out-the-vote push on Nov. 6 at a Denver campaign office.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In a bid for poetic justice, Republicans moved their state election-night watch party from its usual location in the southeast part of town to the stadium where Obama accepted his party’s nomination four years earlier, hopeful that they could celebrate the end of the Democrat’s presidency the same place it had officially launched. Instead, the irony cut the other way as the night wore on and returns rolled in. As a ’70s cover band — their version of the Eagles hit “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” sounded neither peaceful nor easy, one wag observed — gamely played on through the night, the crowd dwindled and a good share of the state’s top Republicans remained sequestered in luxury suites upstairs.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, discuss Democratic election night wins on Nov. 6 at the Sheraton Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Back at the Sheraton, the crowd swelled, and after around 9:30 p.m., when the AP and some television networks announced that Obama had won, surrounding streets filled with celebrants and the air filled with honking horns.

Senior Democratic strategist Craig Hughes credited Obama’s Colorado win to a combination of the right message and what he earlier termed the “most robust organization Colorado has ever seen.”

“The president appealed to voters on economic concerns about expanding the middle class, and I think Romney sold a one-point plan for the 1 percent,” Hughes told The Colorado Statesman as the magnitude of the win became apparent. “And they underestimated our ground game. There’s a big difference between a lot of phone banks and an on-the-ground team that can knock on over a half a million doors in one day. The investment in registration and activating those voters paid off huge — that was the difference.”

After gathering Obama campaign staff on stage — serenaded by the crowd’s robust rendition of the candidate’s signature phrase, “Fired up! Ready to go!” — state director Carrie Doyle applauded the team.

‘It was such an honor to work with this team of people — not just a commitment to excellence and winning, but the real core values that we all share here and we all share with the president and where we’re moving this country,” she said.

Describing the crowd at the Sheraton as “electric,” state Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio said he was thrilled at the outcome.

“We have the best field campaign that has ever been operational in the state of Colorado, and they delivered for the president. It could not have been more of a decisive victory so quick — I was surprised that this happened so fast, I thought that is was going to go on for quite some time,” he said with a grin.

Nonetheless, he predicted, Colorado will likely remain a swing state for years to come.

“We’re not partisans like many other parts of the country,” he added.

A couple hours earlier, GOP state chairman Ryan Call told Republicans — they were still celebrating then, before Romney linchpins Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio had been called for Obama — to “expect a fairly long night,” but also urged the crowd to keep in mind the election’s true stakes.

“This is not a campaign about simply who is going to be in control of the White House for the next four years,” he said. “It really is what direction and course we’re going to take as a people for the next generation. The challenges we face as a people and a state are serious ones, and Republicans have offered a very serious, clear-eyed vision and a plan to help create jobs, to grow our economy, and to make ourselves energy-independent and make sure we are providing the kinds of opportunities for our children that we inherited from our parents.”

The die was cast when the first returns from one of Colorado’s key swing counties posted just after 7 p.m. showing Obama with a nearly 10,000-vote lead and a 3-point margin in Jefferson County, despite Republicans having boasted a lead among ballots cast by mail and in early voting. Obama went on to win the county by 3.4 percent, a point lower than his margin statewide. He won Arapahoe County by nearly 9 points and Larimer County by just over 5 points. In all, Obama came out ahead in 27 of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Obama won by his widest margins in Denver, Costilla and Boulder counties. Romney’s widest margins were in thinly populated Kiowa, Cheyenne, Rio Blanco and Washington counties. The most evenly divided vote in the state was in Chaffee County, where Obama led Romney by just 18 votes, or 0.2 percent. Voters in Las Animas County split nearly as closely, handing Obama the win by 177 votes, a margin of 2.7 percent.

Before Colorado had been called, while networks began putting more and more state’s in Obama’s column even as it became clear that Republicans would maintain a strong majority in the House of Representatives, Gardner told The Statesman that the results painted a mixed picture.

“This is an electorate that isn’t yet settled where it wants to go as a nation,” he said. “It’s an electorate that wants something to happen, and I think that’s why you see these votes the way they are, scattered across the board.”

After it had become more likely that Obama would prevail, Douglas County Republican Kelsey Alexander, a former county GOP chair, said that the results did not bode well for the country.

“We have a lot of takers in our country, and it’s unfortunate the takers might have won tonight. We need more producers,” she said.

A second Obama term could spell disaster for small businesses like one she owns, Alexander said.

“I’m part of a business in Arapahoe County that’s less than a year old, we’ve created 50 jobs — I don’t know if it will survive,” she said. “I’m just getting ready to start on a new venture that’s totally dependent on the oil industry and I don’t know if we’ll go forward with it, and it would have created probably 150 jobs. It’s going to have a huge effect on a lot of businesses. We’re going to get taxed and have higher health care expenses and lower quality — not a good thing for our country.”

Lakewood Republican Jeff Hasstedt had a similarly dour take on the night’s developments.

“I know they’ve been working on dumbing down America for some time, and each and every year it gets worse.
I see it in people’s eyes, I see it when I talk to people — their eyes glaze over, they don’t know what’s going on,”
he said, shaking his head. “I don’t think people realize what they’ve just done.”

Republican National Committeeman Mike Kopp warned against hasty “Monday-morning quarterback scenarios we could bounce around,” and instead suggested that Republicans stay engaged.

“The bottom line is, Colorado and the nation has serious problems to solve, and Republicans will be at the table, and we’ll work together to advance our ideas just the same,” he told The Statesman. “Hopefully, we can see the result of our input in the policy decisions that are being made here in Colorado and in the country.”

He dismissed the notion that Colorado could be trending more Democratic after decades as a reliably Republican vote for presidential candidates, suggesting that Obama’s were more likely aberrations.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership. It is time now for those who will be the leaders of our party for the next 10 to 20 years, it’s time for them to make their moves and galvanize some sustainable momentum her win the state and nationally. I really am confident that the leadership that we need exists, it’s time for them to step forward.”

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, calling Colorado “really ground-zero for the future of the electorate,” said it was the Republican Party that needs to turn its examination inward.

“Elections are an inflection point, they’re an opportunity for parties to reassess where they’re at, and that’s what our party’s going to be about, not only nationwide but in the state of Colorado,” he said. “We need to rebuild the party, we need to have a big-tent philosophy, and we need to recognize that we have to have an inclusive message in order to win — not only here in Colorado but across the country. I think that’s an opportunity for us. It’s a disappointing night, but it’s an opportunity.”

It was time, Stapleton said, for the GOP to stop painting itself into a corner with rising blocs of voters.

“We have social issues that need to be addressed in the party,” he said. “We’ve got an expanding Latino population. These are issues that Republicans are going to have to deal with and decide and sort out where we stand on them. I think that where we should stand on them is a message of inclusiveness and unity and not one of divisiveness.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com