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.