Not From Metro Denver? It May Not Be Possible to Win a Statewide Race

Some Colorado politicos were surprised when state Sen. Greg Brophy failed to generate enough support to make the Republican ballot for Governor last weekend, but it makes plenty of sense when you consider recent electoral history in our state. Brophy hails from Yuma County in Eastern Colorado, an area that is home to only about 10,000 residents. Brophy may have had the support of Republican delegates from Yu18 years in Coloradoma County, but that number would be just a fraction of the votes he needed at the GOP State Convention.

Congressman Cory Gardner, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, is also from the Yuma area. Gardner succeeded Brophy in the State House when the latter was appointed to the State Senate in 2005. Gardner had no trouble winning the GOP nomination for Senate last weekend, primarily because he did not face the same crowded field of gubernatorial candidates that stood in front of Brophy. But Gardner still needs to figure out how to solve what we’ll call his “Yuma Problem” if he hopes to win a General Election matchup with Senator Mark Udall…and history is not on Gardner’s side.

The last time Colorado voters elected a statewide candidate who did not hail from the Front Range of Colorado? That was in 1996, when Loveland-based Rep. Wayne Allard was first elected to the U.S. Senate (Loveland was much smaller in 1996 than it is today — the population has doubled since the 1990 census).

Cory Gardner, Bob Schaffer.

Can Cory Gardner (left) break a trend that former CD-4 Rep. Bob Schaffer could not?

It has been 18 years since Colorado voters last elected a non-incumbent candidate who did not have roots along the Front Range, and particularly, the Denver Metro area.

Check out the numbers from the 2012 election, when a total of 2,584,719 ballots were cast in the race for President. Nearly 80% of those votes came from the Front Range of Colorado, between Ft. Collins and Pueblo. More than 1 million votes were cast in just four Denver Metro counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, and Jefferson.

There was a time in Colorado when grizzled political veterans of any political party agreed on one thing: That a Denver-based politician could never win a statewide office. That old yarn was repeated as recently as 2006, finally dying out for good when former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter was elected Governor.

Population shifts in Colorado over the past 20 years have dramatically altered the landscape of statewide politics, to the point where the old saying about Denver politicians has been flipped on its head. In fact, it may no longer even be possible to win a statewide race if the candidate is not from the Denver Metro area – or at the very least, from somewhere along the Front Range.

With so many media outlets concentrated on the Denver Metro area, local politicians have a significant advantage when it comes to earned media and building name recognition. It’s difficult for a rural Congressman such as Gardner to generate name ID when the Greeley Tribune is the largest media outlet in his district.

You’ll hear a lot of different statistics and historical patterns around the 2014 election, including predictions based on how candidates typically fare in the 6th year of a Presidency. But this Colorado pattern is more than a trend – it represents a fundamental shift in the electorate that would be difficult for any candidate to overcome. Check out our graphic of all statewide candidates since 1996 after the jump…

Colorado Pols Chart on Statewide Candidates



45 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

    Allard was born in Fort Collins and is a resident of Loveland.  Is that not the Front Range ?

  2. RedGreenRedGreen says:

    Loveland is a Front Range city by any measure. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, elected in 1992, was the last statewide candidate who actually lived outside the Front Range, and he was the first in a long while. Elected governors going back to the 1960s at least have all been Front Range residents: McNichols, Love, Lamm, Romer, Owens, Ritter and Hickenlooper. And excepting Campbell, so have senators: Dominick, Haskell, Hart, Armstrong, Wirth, Brown, Allard, Salazar, Udall and Bennet. You'd have to go back to Gordon Allott to find another senator who didn't live in the Front Range when he was first elected.

  3. Tom says:

    Yet, the standard image that statewide candidates try to project isn't "successful urban entrepreneur."

    Instead, the ideal campaign ad consists of the folksy candidate hopping out of a pickup, wearing an ever-so-slightly rumpled flannel shirt and spotless boots, and then proceeding to give the impression that they just got done preg checking cattle on the way to getting some important policy work finished.

  4. davebarnesdavebarnes says:

    The City & County of Denver has gained more people in the last 4 years than the entire total populations of the 14 least populated counties.

    Rural don't matter.

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      And yet the secessionist ramblings of a few rural Coloradans make national news? Something's not right about that.

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      It's a particularly sad day for me to read those words that have been online now for almost five hours with zero blow-back.  I understand the frustration with my people, the Dumphuckistanians.  But I can tell you that for every misguided soul who fell for that useless political stunt – there is another that quietly went about their work, fed their family and hoped for a better day.  Please don't lump everyone outside of the five county metro area in to one pot.  The Front Range progressives + the rural progressives equal a political block that could determine the outcome of statewide elections. 

      • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

        Pols is reporting on a pattern. It's an interesting pattern, one that has held sway for statewide office in Colorado for decades.

        That said, we are in an age of broken patterns, of never-seen-befores, of where-the_—- did-that– come -from?

        Everyone knew that Barack Obama had no chance to become President.

        Everyone knew that deep-red states in the South would never allow gay couples to marry.

        Everyone knew that the private- prison lobby would never allow marijuana legalization, because of the loss of revenue.

        Everyone knew that the insurance industry would successfully suppress meaningful health reform..

        Everyone knew that Popes don't become advocates for social justice.

        Everyone knows that life will go on as usual, regardless of climate change.

        When it's time to break a pattern, it's time. Events will conspire to create inevitability. I think that time is upon us, now.

      • notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

        Michael? How do you get five Metro counties? It was six since I was a kid: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver And Douglas. Then Broomfield was consolidated from its four counties and that's seven.

  5. gertie97 says:

    They do just that, Tom, because most Denver metro residents prefer to think of themselves as real Westerners instead of the urbanites they are. They self-identify with the wide-open spaces.

  6. dwyer says:

    Of course it helps to be from outside of Colorado to win the governor's seat.  We are just enchanted with people from Texas, Upper Darby, PA, and Minnesota. 

  7. dwyer says:

    I have reread the chart.  Coloradopols:  Where are you from???  The chart does not take into major considerations.  Plus, candidates from Metro Denver lost all over the place according to your chart.

    1) 2006 was a big year for Dems nationwide.

    2) 2008 was a Democratic sweep year nationawide. Plus Ritter is an Eastern Plains Colorado guy and a CSU graduate…that does make a difference….

    3) 2010 was the year the Republican party was literally torn apart in Colorado.

       Ken Buck was neck and neck with Bennet until his disasterous appearance on Meet the Press….he was on Meet the Press precisely because he was thought to be in a tight race in Colorado.  Bennet is no more from "colorado" than Obama is….Bennet is east coast elite….

    And even with the Republican nightmare in 2010, the down ticket went republican in Colorado….


  8. dwyer says:

    Correction: Ritter won in 2006


    Plus Ritter is an Eastern Plains Colorado guy and a CSU graduate…that does make a difference…. – See more at:


    Out of staters with a whole lot of money go to Boulder.  Out of staters with some money and job skills go to Denver.

    Colorado Pols probably think that "The Sink" is a dive bar.

  9. dwyer says:

    I remember the good old days when we just hated the Texans who came up here every summer  to escape the Texas heat and took over our mountains in the winter because they were only ones who could afford the lift tickets. 

    • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

      Texans, Californians, New Yorkers = "Flatlanders"…..those who do not know to honk in the tunnels, and panic when driving in the snow.

      We hates them, precious! We hates them forever!!!


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