Once Again, So Much For That Blowout

You can look now.

It’s okay, you can look now.

With the dust settling on the 2014 midterm elections in Colorado, an election that undeniably gave beleaguered Republicans in this state victories to be proud of, a more accurate picture of this year's electorate is emerging. As we've noted in the days since as Gov. John Hickenlooper's narrow re-election and Democrats' surrender of only one chamber of the legislature by only one seat gave them reasons to cheer, the high water mark for the GOP in a year where everything was operating in their favor basically amounted to a draw–a split at the top of the ticket, and split control of the legislature by the same single-seat margin the Republicans managed in 2010.

On Election Night, the early returns in Colorado didn't reflect Democratic strongholds that were counting late into the night. As a result, the numbers in Colorado for television audiences fed the national narrative of a Republican wipeout–and excited reporters and local Republicans were only too happy to reinforce this generalization. But in Colorado, we know now that was not the whole story. The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels notes in her story this weekend about the small-ball success of Cory Gardner's field campaign:

Because many of the early returns involved GOP ballots, the initial tally showed voters kicking out Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper [in addition to Udall], and going for Republican Bob Beauprez — but the governor prevailed.

Hickenlooper won by 3.1 percentage points, Gardner by 2.1 percentage points, according to the latest ballot tallies. That's a far different narrative than initial reports showing Gardner with a resounding lead and the governor winning in a squeaker. [Pols emphasis]

And Burt Hubbard, writing for Rocky Mountain PBS, is even more blunt:

Viewers watching Colorado returns on Election Night received a skewed impression of just how results were going at the top of the ticket.

While Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner appeared to be beating Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in a landslide, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez looked to be edging Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in a race that remained too close at midnight to call.

But with Denver and Adams counties still counting a small number of ballots Friday morning, Hickenlooper held a wider margin over Beauprez, 49 percent to 46 percent, than Gardner did over Udall, 48.4 percent to 46 percent. Each was different than first perceived as a result of slow vote counting in the Democratic strongholds of Denver and Boulder.

Fewer than 40,000 voters in seven key Colorado counties were the difference between a clean Republican Party sweep of all statewide offices, and both Hickenlooper and Udall holding onto their seats, according to an analysis by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. [Pols emphasis]

Everything we talk about in this space about competing campaign narratives in this election, Mark Udall's mistakes, Sen.-elect Cory Gardner's audacious no-apologies political reinvention that proved stronger than any mechanism for accountability that exists in today's politics–all of this matters a great deal, and teach lessons about how to win for both sides. But as we said last week when nobody wanted to hear it, 2014 really could have been a lot worse for Colorado Democrats, and they deserve credit for holding back what proved to be an even stronger Republican national wave than 2010 was. Democrats have many mistakes to learn from, but the idea that this election has somehow vanquished them, or changed the blue-trending political dynamics in this state enough for Democrats to lose heart about 2016, simply has no basis in reality.

Kudos to the media for revisiting the Election Night spin, which didn't stand the test of time.

Monday Open Thread

Divide and rule, the politician cries;
Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

GOP Takes Colorado Senate By 876 (Or 689) Votes

UPDATE: Statement from Colorado Senate Democrats, who are holding a press conference at 3:00PM today:

The Democratic caucus plans to do whatever possible to block efforts to take the state backward with respect to economic growth, women's rights, LGBT equality, the environment and workers' rights.

While the loss of this one seat changes which party is in control of the Senate, the Senate Democrats had many victories in this election, including winning back both recall seats, winning 2 out of 4 very difficult seats in Jefferson County, and winning the rural seat on the Western Slope. 

"After several days of wait-and-see, we now know the fate of Senate control," said Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. "Under Democratic leadership, we were able to achieve the fourth fastest growing economy in the nation and get the unemployment rate down to the lowest it has been since 2008. We are extremely proud of our accomplishments and all of the people who worked with us to make those possible. Going forward, we will do what we can to defend the rights and liberties that we worked so hard to protect. It is our job to hold the Republicans accountable, work together where we can, and continue to fight for a great state."

—–

shutterstock_94499062

The last update yesterday from Adams County at about 11:30PM indicates that the margin between Senate District 24 candidates Beth Martinez Humenik (R) and Judy Solano (D) went in the opposite direction from previous days–expanding the narrow lead for Humenik to 876 votes where previously Solano was gaining. It should be noted that this total does not include provisional ballots, outstanding overseas and military (UOCAVA) ballots, or deficient ballots that can still be cured through Wednesday, but the math seems clear at this point. This ends the suspense over counting in Adams County, which was slowed by the need to manually inspect write-in votes for an obscure county race with no candidates.

And it means that Colorado Republicans will assume control of the Colorado Senate, flipping an 18-17 majority Democratic chamber to 18-17 GOP control. It's a hard-fought win that Republican deserve credit for, and ensures Republicans will have a voice in legislative policymaking over the next two years. In 2010, the last "GOP wave" election, Colorado Republicans similarly won a single-seat majority in one chamber of the Colorado legislature–that time winning the House by under 200 votes.

The other side of the coin is that Democrats have held the governor's race, the state House, and came up less than 900 votes short of holding both chambers of the legislature in one of the worst election years for Democrats anyone can remember. This too is the result of enormous effort by Democrats that should be acknowledged. The second midterm election with a Democratic President at the low point of his popularity, Republicans and pundits widely recognized 2014 to be the last best chance of crushing the decade-old "Colorado Model" that led to Democratic dominance for so many elections. And for all the accolades Republicans deservedly get for toppling Mark Udall, and again taking one chamber of the state legislature by one seat, this election simply was not the wipeout for Democrats that it was in many other states. The "Colorado Model" remains very much in business.

Laura Waters Woods

Laura Waters Woods

As for the Colorado Senate, Democrats' narrow and unexpected (at least by some) loss in SD-24 may not even be the race that matters in the long run. While all eyes have been focused on Adams County the last few days, the SD-19 race in Jefferson County between apparent winner Republican Laura Waters Woods and Democrat Rachel Zenzinger quietly narrowed to only 689 votes. This result may prove more important to long-term control of the Senate for several reasons–the biggest being that Sen.-elect Waters Woods doesn't get a full term. Woods is right back up for election in 2016 to realign the seat with its normal interval, which is being up in presidential years.

This means that for the next two years, all eyes are now squarely on Woods–instantly the most vulnerable member of a brittle Republican majority. Woods' primary victory over establishment-favored Republican Lang Sias, backed by the hard-right Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, could very easily come back to haunt the GOP in the next election. Woods won this seat by roughly the same number of votes that Evie Hudak did in 2012. Assuming she becomes the fringe-right firebrand most expect her to be in the Senate, she will be a much richer target than Sias would ever have been.

In any event, the last few days' experience in Adams County should convince everyone to stop writing in Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny as candidates in uncontested local races. Okay? It gums up the works more than it's worth in giggles.

Republicans Concede Colorado House, Still Awaiting Senate

colorado-state-capitol

The Denver Post's John Aguilar reports:

Republican officials conceded Friday morning that they won't be able to gain enough seats to take majority control of the Colorado House.

They have scheduled elections to choose minority leadership positions at 1 p.m. Friday.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said he was gratified the party picked up at least three seats after being down 37-28 in the last legislative session…

GOP House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso's statement reads less like a concession and more like the next talk-radio conspiracy theory:

“This election we had an uphill battle. Democrats gerrymandered the house district maps, rammed through their highly-partisan election laws, and out spent us 3-1. The fact that we picked up at least three seats and came less than 500 votes from gaining control of the House is a great success.

“In this election, almost 190,000 more Coloradans chose to vote for a House Republican instead of a House Democrat. That difference is more than three times the margin of victory in Colorado’s gubernatorial race, but shockingly still not enough to secure the House majority.”

Apparently Rep. DelGrosso didn't get the memo that Colorado's "highly partisan election law" didn't hurt Republicans in the least–but again, talking points are almost always a few months behind events. And before anyone gets carried away with this latest bit of "treacherous Democrat gerrymandering" apocrypha, understand that there were a significant number of uncontested races this year that shrink the number of Republican votes actually cast against Democrats to a much smaller figure.

Since the mail ballot fraud conspiracy doesn't appear to have lived up to billing, it's good to see that gerrymandering is there as a fallback for Peter Boyles listener community!

In other news, counting continues at a snail's pace in Adams County, where the unexpectedly pivotal SD-24 race remains undecided–and with it, whether Democrats will have undivided control of the Colorado General Assembly. We'll update as further results come in today–the latest word is that Judy Solano is still closing on Republican Beth Humenik with about 6,500 ballots left to count. Depending on how close the final count there is, the allowed time for problem ballots to be "cured," and potentially a recount, may apply.

Polis Improves Percentage Over 2012, Irritating Big Oil Greatly

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

It seems like ancient history today, but just a few months ago, Colorado's political class was embroiled in a major controversy over proposed "local control" ballot initiatives to give communities greater say in regulating oil and gas drilling. Several residential cities along the northern Front Range have voted to suspend or even ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing within their boundaries, in the interest of protecting residents from drilling's harmful effects but conflicting with the mineral rights owned by energy companies.

Out of a number of proposals that circulated among environmentalist and civic groups this year, two proposals supported by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) gained traction: an initiative to increase drilling setbacks from other development, and another putting an 'environmental Bill of Rights' into the state's consitution. Environmental protection has long been part of Polis' agenda, but it took on a greater importance for him after a driller violated the rules adjacent to property owned by the Congressman, later resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

At the same time, Polis was subjected to over-the-top criticism from everyone in Colorado with any connection to the oil gas industry, which if you haven't been paying attention includes a lot of Democrats. All kinds of speculation about the destruction Polis' initiatives would mean for Democrats up and down the ticket was traded at water coolers and spread among chattering class media outlets. Would Jared Polis' upward mobility in Washington take a hit? Might he even perhaps even lose to affable Republican CD-2 challenger George Leing for daring to touch the "Colorado Third Rail" of taking on the energy industry? When the race was called on Tuesday night for Polis, the headline from the Daily Camera's Alex Burness was almost gleeful: "By narrowest margin of career, Polis back for Term 4 in 2nd District."

Except, now that the votes are mostly in, that's not really true: fewer people voted this year, but in percentage terms, Rep. Polis actually improved from 2012 to 2014:

jared2012

jared2014

Sure, you can quibble about the role of the third party candidates in 2012, and it's not really that big of an increase, but the fact remains that the 2014 "Frackapalooza" debate has demonstrably not hurt Jared Polis politically. In every objective sense, George Leing was a better candidate than 2012's Sen. Kevin "Crazypants" Lundberg, and Leing had the benefit of all of this industry-backed presumption that Jared had "overstepped." All that before we even mention that this was a "Republican wave year."

Bottom line: as we've said before, the votes by residents of communities in Polis' district to suspend or ban fracking–Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette, and the others–are proof that Polis is representing his constituents. There's some disappointment on the left about the deal by Polis to drop his 2014 ballot measures in favor of a commission to recommend legislation on the subject, but the other side of that coin is what happens should that compromise effort fail. In that event, we expect Polis to be back, with ballot measures that can pass as this year's could have.

From these results, we'd say Polis should have something else going for him: little to fear.

Inside The Triumph of “Con Man Cory”

Cory Gardner and the smile that changed everything.

Cory Gardner and the smile that changed everything.

In order to understand what happened this week in Colorado's U.S. Senate race, which saw the first ouster of a sitting U.S. Senator from this state in decades, we return to a story that came out on Election Day by Politico's Neil Malhotra, titled "Why Do Voters Believe Lies?"

The lede of the story? Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner.

There is no such thing as a federal personhood bill.” Or so said Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate currently locked in a tight Senate race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, in an interview a few weeks ago. It was a surprising statement—not only because the federal personhood bill, otherwise known as Life Begins at Conception Act, does in fact exist but also because Gardner himself co-sponsored it. “This is all politics,” he added, blaming Udall for spreading untruths about him.

It was, indeed, all about politics. Gardner’s strong support of personhood legislation might have bolstered his popularity among conservative Republicans. But after declaring his Senate bid, Gardner found himself having to appeal to a more moderate electorate (Colorado voters have repeatedly rejected a personhood ballot measure) and changed his position on the issue. So far, his equivocation hasn’t hurt him…

In the end, Gardner's decision to abandon the Colorado state Personhood abortion ban ballot measures he had supported for years right after entering the Senate race did not prevent him from defeating incumbent Sen. Mark Udall as we and many Democrats believed it would. As Democrats cried foul and began loudly hammering away at the inconsistencies of Gardner's flip-flop on Personhood, Gardner never once admitted that there were any inconsistencies. Udall, Democratic surrogates, and eventually the press itself grew exasperated trying to rattle the unflappable Gardner, pointing out that not even other proponents of the Colorado Personhood abortion ban or the equivalent federal Life at Conception Act agreed with him–his insistence that the two measures were different, or that Gardner's "federal Personhood bill" would ban abortion or abortifacient birth control.

The enormity of Gardner's falsehood on the state and federal Personhood bills shocked Democratic strategists, and convinced them that Gardner had opened himself to a fatal line of attack. But, as Politico's Malhotra wrote on Election Day, there was something Democrats hadn't considered:

[R]esearch has shown that attempts to correct misinformation don’t just fall flat; they often backfire. Forcing people to reckon with and argue against facts they don’t want to accept actually makes them more entrenched in their political predispositions…

People on both sides of the political spectrum do this. When they see information they like, they are not motivated to come up with reasons why it is wrong. When they see information they don’t like, they work very hard to discredit it.

The smile.

The smile.

Much has been made of Cory Gardner's indestructible smile. Gardner's sunny disposition ingratiated him with non-ideological voters, and made less informed voters of all stripes more likely to be skeptical of negative messages against him. The harsh subject matter of abortion, rape and incest, etc. contrasted against Gardner's smile, frequently positive ads, and upbeat demeanor generally. Gardner's parry to the attacks on abortion, a dubious proposal to make oral contraceptives available over the counter, succeeded in "muddying up" the issue–not enough to win over all women voters, but enough to win some and introduce confusion about where he really stood with others.

But abortion was far from the only issue on which Gardner was caught red-handed lying to voters. Local and national media fact-checkers dismantled Gardner's claims about his past support for renewable energy, questioned major discrepancies in Gardner's story about his "cancelled" health insurance plan, and easily discredited Gardner's crass fearmongering about the Ebola virus and the Islamic insurgency in the Middle East–just as a few examples. But Udall's campaign failed to make any of these demonstrable lies stick to Gardner. Part of it was the fact that Gardner had successfully "gummed to death" the abortion issue, which made it harder for voters to accept other negatives against him. But the other part was that Gardner was already winning the voters over with positive energy, trumping all such fact-based arguments.

In the end, this was a perfect storm for Mark Udall, and a challenge he was just not built to overcome. Udall, a contemplative and reserved public figure not predisposed to self-promotion, couldn't match Gardner's relentless charisma, and as a result the negative attacks on Gardner lacked a counterbalancing affirmative case for Udall's re-election. Gardner out-smiled and out-gabbed Udall–and not even the press, by September and October livid over Gardner's many evasions and falsehoods, was able to make a difference.

Does Mark Udall deserve blame for his punishing defeat, which almost certainly had negative effects down the ticket for other Colorado Democrats? Absolutely–once it was clear that the abortion attacks were not gaining the right kind of traction, Udall's campaign and Democratic surrogates should have broadened the message to include all the other things Gardner wasn't being honest about on the campaign trail. It wasn't wrong to attack Gardner over Personhood, especially after Gardner made it an issue–but it was wrong to rely on that message after it hit its point of diminishing return. Gardner's lies about energy, Obamacare, and other subjects could have supplemented a broader narrative of how voters couldn't trust Gardner on any issue. Instead of fixating on abortion, Udall's team could have pivoted to how all of these issues render Gardner untrustworthy.

It would not be wrong for Democrats, and anyone else who cares about honesty in politics, to be deeply concerned by what Gardner's lie-based victory says about our political culture today. In 2012, Mitt Romney was broadly perceived to be untrustworthy after his own flip-flops and false statements.

The difference, of course, is that Romney lost. But Gardner's victory in 2014 could validate the strategy of lying to win elections and never apologizing–or even admitting that you're lying, even after everyone with an ounce of political savvy knows it. Lying in politics is not new, of course, but Gardner has elevated it to a new level–of ruthlessness, shamelessness, or brilliance depending on whose side you're on.

And we cannot see how that is a good thing for America.

Andrew Romanoff: Not Just Beaten, But Shellacked

Andrew Romanoff.

Andrew Romanoff.

As Colorado Public Radio's Sandra Fish noted yesterday, Democrats substantially outspent Republicans in this year's biggest congressional matchup in Colorado, the CD-6 race–a race that Republican Mike Coffman, as of the latest counts, won by nearly ten points.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman will return to Congress after facing a difficult challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in a race that cost nearly $16.5 million, according to Sunlight.

Romanoff outspent Coffman by more than $1 million through Oct. 15. But Romanoff faced a barrage of attacks ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Fish offers this handy graph to show how Democrats outspent the GOP in CD-6 this year:

The final result of the CD-6 race this year contrasts against two years ago, when underfunded underdog Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi ran against Coffman and lost by only two points. There is of course the difference in the electorate between 2012 and this year, but not enough to fully account for the difference in the two outcomes. It's clear, based on polling in downballot races in the same district this year in addition to the difference from 2012, that Democrat Andrew Romanoff substantially underperformed in this race.

For us, watching the much better-equipped Romanoff get beaten so handily was akin to the experience of 2011's Proposition 103 versus last year's Amendment 66. Both school finance tax increase measures, Proposition 103 ran a shoestring campaign with almost no money while Amendment 66 had a $10 million war chest. The rest, as our readers know, is history: all the millions spent on Amendment 66 didn't move the needle a bit over Proposition 103's defeat.

The lesson in both? Money has to be there to win, but it can't save you from yourself. Despite Romanoff's surprisingly strong ability to raise money for this race, as a candidate he repeatedly failed to either distinguish himself or capitalize on Coffman's weaknesses. Romanoff's message, like the in-retrospect bad idea to kick off his campaign with a right-leaning "balance the budget" theme, failed to motivate the Democratic base. And as we saw in the U.S. Senate race, Coffman's willingness to audaciously reinvent himself ran laps around Romanoff's capacity to discredit him.

Democrats we've talked to since Tuesday night remain convinced that CD-6 is a pickup opportunity for the right Democratic candidate in the right year. In hindsight, might Karen Middleton have run a better race? In 2016, Democrats get another shot at Coffman–and with Coffman now very much aware of the perennial threat in his swing district, they'll need to make that one count. The more distance Coffman can put between his hard-right conservative past and his new "moderate" image, the harder it will be to ever dislodge him.

Both Legislative Chambers Await Final Count

UPDATE #3: Denver Post's John Aguilar reporting, likely no result in SD-24 today as counting continues in Adams County:

The ballots continued to churn in Adams County Thursday morning and the state continued to wait for answers on which party will control the statehouse in January.

County spokesman Jim Siedlecki said there are still around 20,000 ballots to tally and completing the count could stretch into Friday, due to write-in ballots and duplicate checks.

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UPDATE #2: A press release from the Colorado House Democratic Majority Office:

"We are waiting for all of the votes to be counted in these districts, but we are optimistic at this point that Colorado voters have granted us a governing majority," said Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino.   "We appreciate the confidence that Coloradans have in State House Democrats." 

"It looks like Colorado, despite the political headwinds, once again stood tall against a remarkable nationwide surge by Republicans,” Speaker Mark Ferrandino continued.  "The GOP wave lost its energy when it crashed against Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.”
 
With new results from Arapahoe County coming in late last night that put incumbent Daniel Kagan ahead of his Republican challenger by more than 400 votes, 33 Democrats are now winning House seats.  Additionally, there are votes — in some instances numbering in the thousands — still outstanding in other close races.     
 
 “The voters are sending us back to the statehouse to build on the progress Colorado made in 2013 and 2014, when we helped make our state safer, healthier and more prosperous,” said Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. "I'm extremely proud of the work all our candidates did.  Regardless of the outcome of these races, our House Democrats did amazing work, both at the capitol and in their districts during the campaign, and I am tremendously proud of and grateful to all of them for their tireless dedication to our state."

“I also want to congratulate my new and incoming Republican colleagues in the House and Senate," continued Rep. Hullinghorst.  "When the new session convenes next January, I look forward to working with an excellent class of legislators from both political parties, and of course our Governor, John Hickenlooper, to continue moving this state forward.” 

—–

UPDATE: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

Tuesday night’s Republican wave has stopped just short of taking out Colorado’s Democratic governor and, it now appears, the party’s House majority as well…

Adams County is also likely to settle which party will control the state senate, where Democrats are still clinging to hope that they can retain their 18-17 majority.

The Senate District 24 race will likely be the difference maker, with Democrats and Republicans already having battled to a draw in the other competitive races.

At the moment, former Rep. Judy Solano is trailing Republican Beth Martinez-Humenik by 1,073 votes in the battle to replace the term-limited Democrat Sen. Lois Tochtrop.

It’s possible several thousand ballots have yet to be tabulated in Adams County, enough to leave the outcome of that race in doubt.

—–

Judy Solano.

Judy Solano.

As the Colorado Independent's Lisa Greim reports this morning:

By late Wednesday, Republicans had an unofficial 18-17 lead in Senate seats and Democrats a tentative 33-32 advantage in the House. Adams County planned to wrap up its count on Thursday, leaving two House races and one Senate race still too close to call.

Democrats breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday night when Rep. Daniel Kagan eked out a win in HD-3. “Thanks to Daniel Kagan the Colorado House will stay with the Ds,” former House Speaker Terrance Carroll tweeted.

There will be recounts. There may be surprises among ballots that need to be examined by election judges or sent back to voters to verify their identity or double-check a signature…

Three incumbent Democrats still trail their Republican challengers in Adams County, including Sen. Judy Solano in SD-24, who trails Republican challenger Beth Martinez Humenik by about 1,100 votes. Rep. Jenise May was behind opponent JoAnn Windholz by about 450 votes in HD-30.

In HD-31, incumbent Rep. Joseph Salazar was closing the gap with Republican challenger Carol Beckler, whose lead narrowed Wednesday night to 126 votes.

With Daniel Kagan pulling ahead in House District 3 and Su Ryden stabilizing in Aurora's House District 36, it's increasingly likely that Democrats will hold the Colorado House. In the Senate, with the SD-5 race on the West Slope called for Democrats it's a question of the extremely close Jefferson County Senate races and the SD-24 race in Adams County. The latest word we have is that Judy Solano is closing the gap slowly as the agonizingly slow count goes on.

We'll update as more information comes in–which should be later today.

Who’s Afraid of All-Mail Ballots? Not The GOP Anymore!

Eli Stokols of FOX 31 writes for Politico Magazine about one very unexpected development of this week's election in Colorado: how the GOP appears to have utilized the state's new all-mail ballot system, a reform they staunchly opposed in the legislature last year, to considerable success:

What has been viewed as a partisan attempt by Democrats to further capitalize on the state’s shifting demographics, making it easier for low-propensity voters to cast ballots, appears to have backfired. An early read of Colorado’s returns shows a much older electorate than anyone had predicted: roughly 60 percent of Colorado voters were over the age of 50. Thus, it appears that many who took advantage of the mail-in option were older voters who tended Republican. Turnout, despite the best efforts of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s vaunted Bannock Street Project and other turnout efforts by other progressive groups, was barely above 2010 levels. Gardner won easily and Beauprez took Hickenlooper, who finally claimed victory Wednesday morning, to extra innings because Democrats were surprisingly hoisted on their own petard of election reform.

While so many people are concerned about Republican efforts to roll back voter rights in other states with controversial voter ID laws, limits on absentee balloting and other measures, Democrats—by expanding voting rights in Colorado—paid the price in a state they might otherwise have won.

In the final days of the campaign, Udall’s team saw a narrow path to a late Election Night victory if they could get the overall Republican voter registration advantage below 6 percent and win big with unaffiliated voters. In the end, they did narrow the GOP edge to 5.4 percent, less than the 6 percent margin Sen. Michael Bennet overcame in 2010. But they fell well short of Bennet’s double-digit margins with unaffiliated voters. That’s little surprise given Gardner’s strength as a candidate—he simply never seemed as scary to women or Hispanic voters as Udall’s campaign said he was—and the fundamentals of the 2014 cycle.

In the Denver Post's related story today, DU professor Seth Masket is less certain mail ballots boosted the GOP, but it's pretty evident they did not help Democrats close the gap in a midterm election already stacked against them:

"It's hard to say what the overall lesson for turnout is" from the universal mail-ballot law, said Seth Masket, chairman of the University of Denver's Department of Political Science. "But what happened in Colorado doesn't look too different from what happened in an awful lot of other states, in that you saw some Republicans who outperformed the polling, and Democrats took losses (nearly) across the board."

Masket long had been skeptical that the 2013 law passed by Colorado Democrats — requiring the sending of a ballot to every registered voter with a verifiable address — would boost Democrats' prospects in a non-presidential election.

The legislation that resulted in mail ballots being sent to every registered voters in Colorado this year, House Bill 13-1303, was hotly opposed by Republicans in the legislature in Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Right-leaning "vote watchdogs" like eccentric Aspen millionaire Marilyn Marks warned that mail ballots would allow Democrats to swamp the election with fraud. Now Secretary of State-elect Wayne Williams…well, he didn't actually help scare people about this law much, it's true, though he did try. The law attracted conservative attention again after "gotcha" artist James O'Keefe led a couple of low-level GOTV staffers into endorsing his theory about how mail ballot fraud might work (even though what he proposed would never work).

Regardless, with the election now over and the GOP riding high, Republicans are singing a very different tune about Colorado's mail ballots:

"With mail ballots, the presumption has been it's better for Democrats and liberal interest groups," said Josh Penry, a Republican consultant to the Coffman campaign. "That doesn't have to be the case. The advantage goes to who's best-funded and -organized."

In hindsight, the results make it pretty clear that that the hysteria over House Bill 13-1303 was as unfounded as the Republican county clerks who helped write it always said. And if you're not convinced that Republicans were not fully embracing House Bill 1303 by Election Day, here's Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute–one of the most controversial opponents of the new election laws–endorsing same-day voter registration:

Bottom line: Colorado's experiment with modernized, easily accessible voting in 2014 strongly argues against the kinds of voting restrictions traditionally favored by Republicans. Where in many states Republican-controlled legislatures have clamped down on voting methods, accessibility, and documentation, Colorado took the 180-degree opposition approach of making it as easy to vote as possible while preserving basic safeguards.

And apparently, that didn't hurt the GOP at all. While that one-time result may disappoint some partisan Democrats, we are obliged to consider it a positive development for small-d democracy.

Colorado Democrats Ride Out Republican Wave Yet Again

Colorado rides the GOP wave again

Colorado Democrats rode out another national Republican wave and maintained control under the Capitol dome.

Republicans claimed big victories across the country in the infamous Tea Party Wave year of 2010…everywhere, that is, but in Colorado. Democrats lost seats in Congress and in the state legislature that year, but Sen. Michael Bennet was the only Democratic Senate candidate in the country to withstand a strong Republican challenge (from then-Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck), and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was swept into the Governor's Mansion with relative ease.

While not quite on par with 2010, the 2014 election turned out to be another big national wave year for Republicans…but Colorado Democrats again appear to have bucked the national trends to avoid electoral collapse. Democrats were certainly dealt a blow with Republican Cory Gardner knocking off incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, and Rep. Mike Coffman's re-election victory over Democrat Andrew Romanoff in CD-6; but as the full picture comes into focus on Wednesday, Democrats are finding that the political landscape still looks much better than it does in many other states.

Democrat John Hickenlooper has held off Republican Bob Beauprez to claim a second term as Governor, and it appears likely that Democrats will maintain control of both chambers of the state legislature. In the State Senate, Democrats reclaimed both of the seats lost in the 2013 recall election (SD-3 and SD-11). Votes are still being counted, but if Democrats do indeed maintain control of the legislature, this is a pretty impressive feat considering how the Republican wave decimated Democrats in other states. For example:

In New Mexico, Democrats were beaten soundly throughout the state, losing seats in both chambers of the state legislature (though Mark Udall's cousin, Sen. Tom Udall, won re-election as expected). In Pennsylvania, Democrats picked up the Governor's office, but in a solid-blue state Democrats lost 8 seats in the State House and 3 in the State Senate. In Arizona, Republicans elected a new Governor and picked up seats in both chambers of the state legislature. Florida Democrats lost the Governor's race and dropped seats in both chambers of the legislature. Even Minnesota had mixed results, getting hammered in the state legislature despite holding seats for Governor and U.S. Senate.

As "The Fix" explains today, the national environment for Democrats was really, really, really bad:

Democrats started off the 2014 cycle with a bad national map and it got worse and worse as people like Max Baucus (Mont.), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (W. Va.) retired.  Democrats were defending seven states where Mitt Romney won in 2012; they lost six with a seventh — Louisiana — headed toward a hard-to-win runoff on Dec. 6.  And, Democrats three best pickup chances were in states that gave Obama 46 percent (Georgia), 38 percent (Kansas) and 38 percent (Kentucky) of the vote in 2012.

It's hard to see what else the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could have done to hold back the tide — even if Mark Udall won in Colorado and the party won the Iowa open seat they would have still lost the majority — given the states lined up against them. [Pols emphasis]

To be sure, the 2014 election did not turn out exactly like Democrats had hoped it might, but you could say the same thing for Republicans today. With both parties expecting Democrats to have an advantage in 2016, there's more than one silver lining as the final 2014 ballots are counted.

 

Will Democrats Hold Both General Assembly Chambers?

UPDATE: Via the Denver Business Journal, ballot counting in Adams County is agonizingly slow due to write-in votes in a countywide race. As a result, they may not be done counting until tomorrow:

County officials had about 25,000 ballots left to count when they went home at 2 a.m. Wednesday, Siedlecki said. Clerk's office workers and judges returned at 9 a.m. this morning but have the capacity only to count between 15,000 and 20,000 ballots per day, meaning that the tallying is likely to stretch into Thursday, he said.

"There also were a large number of ballots turned in Monday and Tuesday," Siedlecki said, noting that added to the delay.

Hanging in the balance are one Senate race and two House races that likely will determine which parties control each of the legislative chambers…

The delay of results could delay elections for legislative leadership positions, including House speaker and Senate president. Those elections typically take place on the Thursday morning after the election but may have to be postponed if it remains unclear which party leads one or both of the chambers.

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colorado-state-capitol

Last's night's despair as Democrats suffered wide-ranging losses both in Colorado and nationally is giving way to cautious hope this morning that Colorado Democrats may, in addition to holding the Governor's Mansion, narrowly retain control of the Colorado Senate and House. FOX 31:

Though the GOP takeover swept across the nation on Tuesday, two pro-gun Republican recall winners who helped start the shift of power in Colorado before election season lost their seats in the state Senate Tuesday night, leaving control of that crucial chamber still up for grabs Wednesday morning.

If Democrats were to retain their majority in the state Senate, they would control that chamber as well as the state House and governor’s office, with FOX31 Denver calling that tight race in favor of John Hickenlooper Wednesday morning.

Before Tuesday’s election, Democrats held an 18-17 edge in the state Senate, with 18 seats up for grabs. If the races concluded where they stood as of 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, Democrats would retain that one-seat majority.

Two of the seats that changed hands Tuesday night once belonged to pro-gun recall winners Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, and George Rivera, R-Pueblo, both of whom lost their races by relatively large margins in Districts 11 and 3, respectively.

In the House, a couple of Adams County Democrats came up unexpectedly short, with Joe Salazar and Jenise May narrowly trailing underdog Republican opponents. It's since been reported that thousands of ballots remain uncounted in both Adams County and Jefferson County, quite possibly enough to flip those two House races back to Democrats in addition to boosting Democratic Senate candidates in tight Jeffco races. On the West Slope, SD-5 Democratic candidate Kerry Donovan is narrowly ahead of Republican Don Suppes–another vital bulwark against a Republican takeover of the Senate.

In short? Watch this space, because between John Hickenlooper's re-election and this developing situation, there's a chance the gloating by state-level Republicans last night was a little premature.