Rick Ridder and Ariane Williams
Over the past 30 years, some so-called political wisdom has taken on mythic qualities—proverbially, you follow the rules, or you lose the race. Well, now that the 2018 elections returns are finalized, it’s time to take another look at those taboos. With Colorado changing rapidly, what was once verboten is now an asset, and the big no-nos are no big deal.
Let’s do some myth–busting.
1. A politician from Boulder can’t win statewide – “There is one word that makes me nervous that Jared Polis can’t be elected, and that word is [significant pause] Boulder.”
The above quote, from a Cary Kennedy supporter in a precinct caucus, encapsulates the doubt that a politician from liberal Boulder could possibly win in canonically purple Colorado – despite statewide victories by Tim Wirth and Mark Udall, both of Boulder. In fact, far from a partisan dead weight, Boulder has become an electoral juggernaut. Boulder’s Second Congressional District showed the second highest turnout in the country. And Boulder voters support their hometown candidates. Statewide, Jared Polis ran 4.3% over Governor Hickenlooper’s 2014 vote total, but in Boulder County, Polis outpaced his predecessor by 7.6%. Together, high turnout and hometown loyalty afford Boulder candidates a huge advantage statewide—which should give future Boulder-bashers significant pause.
2. A gay politician can’t win statewide. Twenty-six years ago, Colorado passed Amendment 2, prohibiting anti-discrimination protections based on sexuality. How did “the hate state” elect an out gay gubernatorial candidate for the first time in US history? With very little fanfare, as it turns out. In fact, it was such a non-issue that many Polis supporters didn’t know he was gay. Which just goes to show how much the culture has changed: from the hate state, to who cares?
3. A Jewish politician can’t win statewide. In 1982, a Southern Colorado political operative predicted Gail Klapper’s Attorney General loss because, “You can’t run a women who’s Jewish down here.” Even now, some election-watchers worried that “Jewish,” and/or “from Boulder,” “gay,” and oh yeah, “millionaire,” wouldn’t jibe with what Coloradans expected in their statewide officials. Those pundits woke up the day after election mumbling “oy vey”: Coloradans elected 1) a gay, Jewish millionaire as Governor, 2) Phil Weiser, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, as Attorney General, and 3) Yes – a Jewish woman, Jena Griswold, as Secretary of State.
4. You can buy a landslide. Proposition 112, the setback measure, went down 45%-55%. A respectable ten-point spread—until you consider that the “no” side outspent their opponents more than 36-to-1. That’s 36 million. For that kind of money, you should be able to paper the state with messaging (which they did) and walk away with a landslide (which they didn’t). Oil and gas, take note: the price may keep climbing.
5. You MUST Go to Club 20. The punditry class bayed in full-throated uproar when Jared Polis announced that he was not attending the (untelevised) Club 20 debate in early September. “A monumental unforced error” wrote one of the most quoted pontificators. “This is a slap in the face of the West Slope,” another opined. “Political malpractice,” deemed the dean of political wisdom in the state. But it’s about the voters, not the pundits. So how did the voters judge Jared Polis’ lack of participation? In 2014, both Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Bob Beauprez attended the debate.
Let’s look at how that shook out compared to 2018, when only Walker Stapleton showed up…
In the Club 20 counties:
- Stapleton’s margin over Polis was 3.2%. Beauprez’s margin over Hickenlooper was 7.6%. So, Polis cut the R-D spread by 4.4%.
- Polis’ win percentage over Hickenlooper was 4.3% statewide, but 4.4% in the Club 20 counties.
In other words, he improved on Hickenlooper’s support in the Club 20 counties more than he did statewide – albeit marginally. This data suggests that there is not a great argument for going to the Club 20 debate, but maybe a rationale for field offices, extensive public appearance across the region, and attending multiple televised debates—all of which Polis did.
6. Younger voters don’t vote. Electoral modeling forecast the number of under-50 voters at 40%, but Millennials didn’t get the memo. 44% of voters were under 50, a historic high, and those younger voters tipped the state bluer than ever—another first in a mid-term election full of them. In a purple state (even one trending blue) with turnout split just about evenly between D’s, R’s and U’s, younger voters can make or break a campaign—and they broke for the gay, Jewish, liberal guy from Boulder.
Rick Ridder is the president of RBI Strategies and Research, a Denver-based political consulting and research firm. Ariane Williams is Project Manager at RBI.