“Lose By Winning”–The Colorado GOP’s Long-Term Dilemma

The Republican base (increasingly to scale).

The Republican base (increasingly to scale).

A great analytical piece from Politico's Todd Purdum this weekend makes points that observers of Colorado politics should keep in mind, and have been borne out by Colorado's recent political history as we'll explain:

It’s the predominant paradox of contemporary American politics: If Republicans prevail in this year’s midterm congressional elections, it will be because of their party’s sharp-edged stances on topics like abortion and Benghazi, Obamacare and immigration, gay marriage and the minimum wage — issues that energize the GOP’s core base of support.

But if Republicans lose the race for the White House in 2016, it will be because of their party’s polarizing, out-of-step stances on those very same issues, which alienate much of the broader electorate the GOP needs to win a national contest in a country whose demographics and political realities are shifting under its feet…

“The Republican Party has essentially now two wings: a congressional wing and the national wing,” the veteran GOP pollster Bill McInturff said at a recent Pew Research Center forum on so-called millennial voters, those from 18 to 29 years of age. The congressional wing is thriving, especially in the South, in districts that are 75 percent, or even 80 percent, white, and where every incumbent’s worst fear is a challenge from the right.

…On questions like climate change and gay marriage, pollster McInturff said, younger voters no longer believe there is anything to argue about. He summed up their views as: “‘We wouldn’t fight about that. That’s just presumed to be true.’” [Pols emphasis]

Thomas Mann, the veteran political scientist and Congress-watcher at the Brookings Institution, said that, at the moment, the Republicans are “simply not a presidential party.”

In Colorado, the 2010 "GOP wave" election is generally reckoned to have been a "modest" defeat for the Republican Party. Democrats easily won a gubernatorial race in which the Republican frontrunner self-destructed, and won a narrow victory in a top-tier U.S. Senate race against a candidate whose backward views on social issues rendered him unpalatable to independent and women voters. The state didn't completely escape the effects of historic Republican victories across the nation in 2010, with the GOP picking up two congressional seats, winning the statewide races for Attorney General, Treasurer, and Secretary of State, and the Colorado House flipping to the GOP by a single extremely narrow win in the northwest Denver suburbs. But the overall result was well short of what Republicans had expected the summer before.

In 2012, Democrats in Colorado ran the table on Election Night, sweeping GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty from power in the state House and delivering the state to Barack Obama by a comfortable margin. Going into the 2014 midterms, we see the same pressure on Colorado Democrats to turn out their base voters and swing independents that was evident in the midterm elections of 2010. The question is, can Colorado Democrats minimize the impact of this midterm "wave" as they did in the last midterm election?

The answer is very logically yes, and as the story above explains, it's because the overarching demographics driving this whole midterm/presidential year dichotomy inexorably favor Democrats. One of the biggest reasons the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right since the election of Barack Obama is that, as this changing American electorate begins to decide elections, the biggest constituency Republicans have left to appeal to is the out-of-the-mainstream fringe right wing. Republicans were fully willing to embrace the "Tea Party" to win in 2010. There was a powerful short-term advantage in appealing to this segment of the electorate, in that they are extremely reliable and passionate voters. There is a tremendous enthusiasm gap between such voters, who vote in greater numbers in every kind of election, and the much larger body of voters who turn out once every four years. We're certainly not the only ones who have said this, but we've been saying it for years: 2010 wasn't about who voted, it was about who didn't vote.

And we could say the same thing about John Morse's recall. Or the Jefferson County school board.

The markedly different electorates who decide midterm and off-year vs. presidential elections can result in head-snapping results from one election to the next. Just as one example, the Jefferson County voters who turned out to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 would never have voted in the radical conservative school board majority now causing street protests the following year. If this seems like an obvious point to you, that's great, but most voters simply don't understand these differences–and as a result, fringe minority electorates are assumed to be representative.

In 2010, Colorado Democrats used exactly what appeals to these ardent conservative voters against Republicans with the broader presidential-year electorate–and by effectively driving home the message of GOP extremism, incompetence, and moral turpitude, they turned out just enough of the 2008 electorate to break the "GOP wave." Colorado Democrats have the same challenge in 2014, but they also have the same opportunity: a rich body of material to use against Republican candidates at every level, from Cory Gardner to Victor Head.

And each year, as the changing electorate chips away at the GOP's narrowing coalition, it gets easier.

14 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit! says:

    I mostly agree, with the caveat that Democrats have to make the positive case for why they should win. As much help as the Rs give us by being crazy, we have to show we deserve support. I personally think that's a no brainer, we're better hands down than a bunch of crazies, but the media tries so hard to make these yahoos and their idiocy equal, the Rs get credit for sanity they don't possess.

    That's my $0.02 anyway.

    • Half Glass Full says:

      That's a really good point. I think Hickenlooper will take it to heart, and he has a great record to run on. I'm a little more worried about Udall because simply by nature of Congress's inaction, he has less of a positive record.

      Romanoff benefits by not being the incumbent against a man who has accomplished virtually nothing while in office. But Romanoff, too, needs to explain why we should vote for him. He seems to be getting that message.

  2. mamajama55 says:

    I think that the social issues (Gays, Guns, Ganja) GOTP relied on to turn out their base don't have the juice that they used to. Certainly, in Colorado, gay marriage and cannabis legalization enjoy wide public support, even with some legal problems to overcome, like the CO constitution bans same sex marriage, and restrictions at the Federal level still keep cannabis production low.

    The attempt to have a second year all about the guns failed. Rocky Mtn Gun Owners lobbyists were unable to repeal background checks, or magazine limits, and all they've done with their campaign  cash for endorsed candidates has been to divide the GOP.  Laura Carno tried pretty hard to make gun ownership a women's issue, supplanting reproductive rights.  This also failed, although  conflating the two helped to pressure Senator Hudak into resigning. 

    Abortion and access to contraception continue to be the go-to social issue for conservatives – and it will continue to reliably turn out the conservative base for all elections. But, as Pols said, that base is shrinking – with all of the other social issues fading in the harsh light of reality:

    • Nobody's "grabbed guns".
    • Heterosexual marriage is alive and well, at least as well as it was before same-sex civil unions were OK in Colorado.
    • Reefer madness hasn't created drug-crazed zombie mobs – crime and incarceration rates continue to fall – for weed-related offenses, obviously, but also for other violent crime). 

    So is banning abortion going to be enough anymore to give GOTP a margin of victory? I think not. The economic issues are going to have more of an impact, and the GOP is on the wrong side of most of them. MInimum wage, for example – virtually all Republicans are against raising it. Do they really think that they will persuade low-wage workers that keeping it low will help "create jobs"? Or refusing to extend unemployment insurance – that's going to help exactly how?  And denying immigrants a chance to become citizens does what for the economy?

    With the gas and energy issues, it's going to be a battle of beliefs – which will prevail the "110,000 jobs for high school diploma holders" or  the actual much more modest 30,000 number? And what about the health of people living near those fracking sites? 

    The modern Colorado voter is nowhere near as apathetic and uninformed as the industry lobbyists might wish.  It's still going to be a struggle to communicate clearly, but unless the GOP gets real, it is doomed to lose its political power, year by year. 

  3. Miss Jane says:

    One thing I particularly dislike about this current poor excuse for a conservative party is the citing of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman to defend the outright greed we see today.  Neither provides a coherent rationale. 

    I was googling around about income disparity and economists and came across an article about Adam Smith.  He seems to have been greatly misrepresented by the greedy elements who are bent only on wealth acquisition.  He lived in a very different era, but he seems to have had a good grasp of human nature and how it can impact a "free" market whether for good or ill.  He disparaged government protection of special interests and promoted the protection of the working and poorer classes from the tendency to exploit them by the wealthy and advantaged. He also believed in taxation.  He made some worthy points.  He believed in moral behavior and that it is necessary for a fair and viable market economy.

    I do feel that eventually most people will come to see that we are being manipulated and divided through cynical use of the social issues and artificially contrived hot button issues to promote and protect what is essentially a focused grab for wealth.  And, as more and more poeple see them for what they are, I hope that these poor excuses find themselves naked in the public square. 

    This is definitely worth skimming through. It is certainly easier to read than Adam Smith.


  4. FrankUnderwood says:

    The villagers are approaching with pitchforks and torches!!!  Did anyone notice that Tancredo's British counterpart, Nigel Farage, and his U.K. Independence Party garned 28% in the European Parliament election yesterday?    One difference:  where Tancredo wants to build a big fence, UKIP just wants to block the Chunnel.

  5. reubenesp says:

    Udall, Hickenlooper and congressional Dems are favored to win re-election for many of the reasons you outlined. But retaining control of the state legislature could be problematic, as it was in 2010 when Dems lost the state house.

    Turning out the Democratic base in competitive districts in off-year elections is key. That’s because lower turnout in off-year elections favors Republicans.

    Jared Polis thinks the local control initiatives will increase voter turnout and favor “local control candidates.”  But most Democratic legislators are firmly in the pro-fracking camp, including those in swing districts.

    • Duke Cox says:

      But most Democratic legislators are firmly in the pro-fracking camp

      Then tell us their names, Reuben, so we can get after their sorry asses. The people of Colorado need to make it very clear that, if you are an O&G toadie, you will not keep your seat in the legislature.

      If you know of Dems who need to be straightened out on this, tell us who they are…

  6. Andrew Carnegie says:

    Everything is turning out Dem, right?

    Demographics are key, right?

    Has anyone taken a look at the Demographic of 18-25 year olds?

    Harvard's Institute of Politics did.

    The survey said that 33 percent of young Americans consider themselves Democrats and 24 percent identify with the GOP. The largest and growing segment is among independents, 41 percent of the total.

    Democrats' advantage among young voters is fading. Among the oldest millennials (ages 25 to 29), Democrats hold a 16-point lead over the GOP: 38 percent say they're Democrats, and 22 percent call themselves Republicans. Among the youngest of this rising generation (ages 18 to 24), the gap is just 6 points, 31 percent for Democrats and 25 percent for Republicans.



    • Duke Cox says:

      And you somehow take this as good news?

      • JBJK16 says:

         Party affiliation is almost meaningless.

        This study says to me that younger voters reject both parties.  But I don't think this means they vote for Romney or a gay marriage ban. And in Colorado it doesn't mean they vote to criminalize marijuana nor to make Tancredo governor.

      • langelomisterioso says:

        AChas to see it as good news. The wingers tend to count independents as somehow belonging to them as if independents  are actually Republicans but just ashamed to declare themselves. I'm also struck, as usual,by his willingness to buy a study from Hahvahd-  usually consideredthe basic training site for Hades- but this time it has some info which winguts like AC can, by squinting hard, origami into marginally hopeful news so he'll run with that.

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