Eli Stokols, Fox 31’s political reporter, has a long blog post over at 5280 magazine attempting to analyze the problems with Colorado’s Republican Party. Stokols points out one specific problem that we have long scratched our head about in regards to the GOP:
Early in 2012, Mitt Romney paid his first visits to Colorado, to far-flung places such as Fort Lupton and Craig, a good 200 miles from Denver. After a few such trips, some political observers, myself included, began to wonder why the GOP nominee was focusing on these reliably red and sparsely populated parts of the state. It made a certain amount of sense: No one expected Obama to win Colorado as easily as he did, and no one ever expected Mitt Romney to win Denver County anyway.
However, it’s become clear that Obama’s margin in Colorado owes itself to not just winning Denver, but to flat out running up the score here, thumping Romney by almost 150,000 votes. Breaking the 70 percent mark in a base county is a positive for any candidate; doing it in a state’s most populous county means game over.
We’ve written in this space many times about how Democrat Ken Salazar defeated Republican Pete Coors in their 2004 Senate battle because of Denver. It wasn’t that Salazar outperformed Coors in Denver in terms of percentages, but rather the enormous number of votes that gave him a cushion to win the seat despite tighter results elsewhere in Colorado. We’ve never understood how Republicans don’t seem to understand that 85% of Colorado voters live along the Front Range, and Mitt Romney’s campaign is yet another example of that confusion.
In late May 2012, Romney’s campaign made a big deal out of his appearance in Craig, Colorado, a town in Northwest Colorado with a population of less than 10,000 people. We were baffled at the choice of Craig as a campaign stop, but Romney did go on to win Moffat County (Craig is the largest town in Moffat) with 76 percent of the vote. Nevermind that the vote totals were 4,695 for Romney and 1,330 for Barack Obama.
Romney continued to generally avoid large population areas in Colorado, and at one point in the fall he hadn’t visited the Denver Metro area in 30 days. Perhaps he thought each Colorado county would serve as 1/64th of an electoral vote, because the numbers are staggering otherwise.
Obama defeated Romney in Colorado by 137,858 votes. Of Obama’s 1,323,101 votes in the state, 914,815 came from just seven counties (Jefferson, Denver, Boulder, Arapahoe, Douglas, Adams and Larimer). In those seven counties, Obama outpolled Romney by 264,193 votes — nearly double his final margin of victory.
Maybe Romney wouldn’t have performed much better if he had campaigned more in Metro Denver, but he couldn’t have done any worse. Outside of Douglas and El Paso counties, the two largest Red counties in Colorado, Romney’s only hope was to somehow increase turnout in smaller West Slope counties. Of course, that would only work if he simultaneously figured out a way to dramatically increase the population of Western Colorado.
This isn’t the only reason why Republicans are having a hard time winning major statewide elections in Colorado, but it’s a big one.