Expert Analysis: What Happened in Colorado in 2014?

The good folks at Hilltop Public Solutions, one of the leading Democratic-aligned political consultant firms in Colorado with offices across the nation, have put together a fascinating presentation analyzing the results of the 2014 elections in Colorado. We had the opportunity to view their presentation this week, and obtained permission to use their slides and data in a post. We doubt we can explain in a blog post as well as Craig Hughes and team can tell the story, but we'll try to give readers a sense of their conclusions. This is largely a data-driven explanation, but to be clear, it does come primarily from the perspective of Democrats.


This slide dispels one of the major misconceptions about the 2014 elections. The fact is, Democrats turned out the votes they believed were necessary to win in Colorado, and did so in greater numbers than they had in the last midterm election in 2010. What Democrats didn't count on was a national political climate that Colorado has slowly caught up with in the years since President Barack Obama's election. In 2010, Democrat Michael Bennet won substantially more right-leaning independents and even Republican votes than Mark Udall did in 2014. Combine that with the sudden erosion of support for Democrats in formerly reliable blue areas of the state–Pueblo and Adams County–and you can account for much of the difference between Bennet's narrow win and Udall's narrow defeat.

Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-3 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-4 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-5 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-7

What you can see in these slides is analysis of the "surge" vote in 2014 midterms–voters who did not vote in the last 2010 midterms elections but did this year. As you can see, Democrats performed well among these lower-propensity voters, and it wasn't really what you'd call a "Republican wave" at all. But it wasn't enough to overcome the large Republican base in Colorado, which was much more unified behind Cory Gardner than the GOP was united behind Ken Buck in 2010.

Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-14 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-16


Here you can see comparisons between Michael Bennet's performance in 2014 and Mark Udall's in 2014 by region. The general erosion of support for Udall is evident just about everywhere except for Denver and Boulder–but by far most pronounced in the "South Front Range" region, Douglas and El Paso counties. It's a truism in Colorado politics that in order to win a statewide election, one most both win big in the areas of the state naturally aligned with you, and not lose too badly in the regions that are not. Many Democrats forget that the Republican bastion of El Paso County also contains a large number of Democratic and persuadable independent votes. If you don't win enough of those votes, winning the state is very difficult. And Mark Udall did not.

Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-24 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-23 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-22 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-21

These slides provide a breakdown of Gov. John Hickenlooper's substantial outpolling of Mark Udall across the state. Hickenlooper outperformed Udall in every area of the state, especially in energy-friendly and otherwise conservative counties like Mesa, Douglas, and Weld. Hickenlooper still lost the South Front Range and Western Slope, but by smaller margins than Udall.


Bottom line: as this data shows, the Democratic field campaign operation in Colorado can again be considered a major success–improving turnout in many of the electoral segments considered most vital to Democratic victories. Working against Democrats in Colorado this year was a national political climate that has hardened partisan lines, and reduced the crossover vote by right-leaning independents and moderate Republican voters. Combine that with the precipitous decline in support among traditionally Democratic strongholds like Adams County and Pueblo, and the long term challenge faced by Democrats–especially in midterm elections–becomes indisputable.

What's the solution for Democrats looking ahead to 2016? Part of the road back is demostrated by Hickenlooper's winning positive economic message, which stood out against both Bob Beauprez's over-the-top scare tactics and Udall's one-note abortion attack strategy. Working and middle class voters need to be reassured that Democrats have their best interests at heart: they know Republicans are looking out for the wealthy, but there is a persistent sense among blue-collar voters evinced in these numbers that Democrats are only interested in the very poorest citizens–leaving middle and working class voters feeling like they have no advocate at all in today's politics. We're not saying this impression is accurate; but it's increasingly undeniable that it does exist. And for Democrats, future victory in Colorado depends on bringing these voters back into the progressive coalition.

See view Hilltop's presentation in its entirety, click here. And many thanks again for allowing us to share this excellent analysis.

30 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Progressicat says:

    I think that keyboards should deliver an electronic shock every time the apostrophe key is pressed. "Latino's" is the pizza shop Mr. Latino owns; "Latinos" are a group of people.

    • mamajama55 says:

      What Pcat said.. Latinos, not Latino's. For all the millions spent, they could have spent 2 cents on a grammar checker.

      Pet peeve. Plurals do not require an apostrophe. Apostrophes show possession. 

  2. Progressicat says:

    I don't know that I'd agree that blue collar voters think Dems are only interested in the poorest of the poor.  I think they didn't hear anything from Udall that made them think Dems were interested in people's economic well being.  Hell, even the issue of reproductive choice has profound implications for the economic well being of the poor and middle class.  I don't remember hearing about that  And I hear that message of economic progressivism every day from other Democrats.

    I don't think the problem is the national political climate or that Democrats don't have a message.  They just refuse to run on their message.  Democrats are hyper-defensive: Obamacare's not that bad, I voted against the president twice (well three times if you count that time I insisted on pizza for lunch), vagina uterus ovum.  Vision, folks.  Tell us what America looks like when you get into power.  The GOP is (even if they're lying about it).

    • Zappatero says:


      Udall was firmly on the side of Wall St. for his entire 6 years. Well, except for maybe the day Liz came and helped in his 4th quarter act of desperation. And in a minor win for honesty, he said he was willing to lose his job over that Bowles-Simpson Grand Bargain B.S.

      He did.

      The bigger point is that El Paso County can turn an election for or against Dems, and the tyrannical majority of R's here should be countered by the state party and our statewide electeds (Oh, many of them just lost. I wonder why?)

      I remember George W. coming here late in the '04 election. He didn't come because of fond memories of the Broadmoor's many and fine bars. He came to buck up the base.

    • BlueCat says:

      Disagree Pcat. I do think many lower to middling middle class people buy into the line that Dems just want to give things away to poor minorities at the expense of hard working modestly middle class people. That and make sure everyone can have abortions and gays can get married. Candidates like Udall did nothing to dispel that notion.

      These voters could be reached with the strong economics based messaging most Dems avoided like the plague leaving the field to Rs.  Hick was the exception and he won. The kind of modestly middle class voter struggling to pay bills is simply not primarily concerned about choice or environmental issues or about whether Gardner is lying about personhood. They are concerned about being able to make a decent living and a decent future. Dems largely leave the economic field to Rs who are happy to say… vote for us if the economy is your primary concern. We're the ones with responsible economic policy.

      Of course they aren't and their policies have driven the middle class into the ground but Dems don't counter the message. In fact they just claim to be almost as responsible as those responsible conservative Rs.

      I still think getting behind immigration reform and minimum wage increase and Obama making his immigration move prior to the election would have even further maximized the Latino and young vote but running on a primarily economic message, as Hick did, instead of an almost exclusively social issue platform is clearly what we need to do to get more persuadables back on board.

      Every Dem candidate should have stressed the economic success we've enjoyed with Dems in charge here in Colorado, outlined plans for building on the that success, especially for those who depend on paychecks, and pointed out the abject failure of the policies Colorado Rs promote, the same ones that  are pulling down economies in red run states, most especially our next door neighbor, Kansas. Also should have stressed the assistance that hard working people have received in the wake of our floods and fires, always supported by Dems, often opposed by Rs. Udall did a little of that but spent much more time scowling about personhood.  

      The truth is the majority of middle class voters don't have things like choice and gay rights at the top of their list of priorities and those seem to be the only areas in which Dems are willing to draw clear distinctions between their policies and those of Republicans. Dems need to stop being afraid of being called commies for opposing failed conservative trickle down and supporting economic policies that put the middle first.

      Whatever you think of Hick his campaign was all about the thriving economy  on his watch and his cheerful determination to keep it going.  Udall lost with his almost entirely social issue campaign and Romanoff lost with his education and Republican lite balanced budget amendment economic campaign.  Udall's message didn't touch what most voters care most about. Romanoff didn't give anyone much of a reason to choose him over the incumbent R low info voters still perceive as moderate. I think the message should be taken to heart. Working and middle class voters do need to be reassured that Democrats have their best interests at heart:

      they know Republicans are looking out for the wealthy, but there is a persistent sense among blue-collar voters evinced in these numbers that Democrats are only interested in the very poorest citizens–leaving middle and working class voters feeling like they have no advocate at all in today's politics. We're not saying this impression is accurate; but it's increasingly undeniable that it does exist. And for Democrats, future victory in Colorado depends on bringing these voters back into the progressive coalition. – See more at:


      • Progressicat says:

        I don't think we disagree smiley

        • BlueCat says:

          I just disagree with your view that blue collar folks feeling Dems are only interested in the poorest of the poor isn't a problem. I'm pretty sure it is but only because of the problem we both agree on:  Dems not conveying the message that they are interested in the people's economic well being as a top priority. Too many blue collar workers think their tax dollars (even if after deductions all they pay is social security) are going to pamper the undeserving poor. Instead of disabusing them Dems  promise to be more like Republicans to appease them. So the blue collar workers vote for the real Republicans.

  3. Craig says:

    They should have paid me for this analysis.  I would have taken half what this consulting firm got.  I've said all of this since the election and, oh by the way, I've given a reason for it – Udall's obnoxious, insulting single issue campaign.  And, I've posited that Dems thanks to Udall have made backwards progress in this state due to the hardening of Republican views, losses among old unaffilited men and the loss of blue-collar workers in Pueblo and Adams county and this backwards progress will take years to recover.  Also as I've said before, Udall's campaign staff should be run out of the state on a rail and never allowed to participate in Colorado elections again.

    Yawn, move on to something that an old fart who's been around politics in Colorado for years told you some time ago.  This was entirely avoidable and will hurt Colorado Democrats for years to come.  Hilary ought to be looking hard at Colorado strategy now, because Jeb Bush could win here.

  4. bullshit! says:

    I think Republicans have been targeting blue collars whites for some time. They may not win them over but if they can make them hate Democrats, it's just as good. I totally agree that 2016 will be fought and won/lost in the working class suburbs like Adams.

    Great stuff, thanks Craig Hughes and Pols. Maybe someday I'll be important enough to see these prezis! 🙂

    • BlueCat says:

      They have won them over. It started decades ago with the combo of religious right stuff and the welfare queens are  taking money out of your pocket stuff. Clinton was able to connect with them but having an African American prez has given the Rs a new lease on life with white blue collar workers.

  5. DaftPunk says:

    Can We Talk? Here's Why the White Working Class Hates Democrats

    why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. There was a hope among some Democrats that Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform would remove this millstone from around Democrats' necks, and for a few years during the dotcom boom it probably did. The combination of tougher work rules and a booming economy made it a less contentious topic.

    But when the economy stagnates and life gets harder, people get meaner. That's just human nature. And the economy has been stagnating for the working class for well over a decade—and then practically collapsing ever since 2008.

    So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

  6. gertie97 says:

    Well said, Craig. Too many Democrats forget about those of us who are lunch-bucket Democrats — looking out for the working stiff. Udall's staff blew it big time, but limousine liberals often can't or won't see that environmental groups appear to threaten working stiff jobs. Republicans are only too happy to fuel this perception. Udall campaigned zilch on jobs for real people and it cost him.

    Perhaps Democratic campaign consultants in Denver need to spend some time in the rest of the state (Vail, Aspen and Telluride don't count) and actually listen to real people. Pueblo, Lamar and Trinidad with a Western Slope swing through Durango-Cortez, Delta, Grand Junction and Meeker, followed by a Plains sweep of Yuma, Sterling and a few wide spots in the road.

    As that great American Yogi Berra once remarked, You can observe a lot just by watching.''



    • mamajama55 says:

      gertie, Udall did campaign on raising the minimum wage and on renewable energy jobs, the economic development that the SW Chief would provide, and other economic themes. That was a big part of his debate with Gardner in Pueblo.

      Maybe it was too little, too late? Once he was labeled as "Mark Uterus", the public perception congealed, and it almost didn't matter what he said. 


      • gertie97 says:

        Not on the Western Slope, he didn't, mama. He did mention raising the minimum wage a time or two, but any working stiff knows it still doesn't get the wallet where it needs to be. All the working stiffs over here see is that jobs and pay suck these days, the Front Range is booming and the Republicans will bring back another gas boom. The Rs can't, of course, since the market price decides that, but it's what the voters believe. Udall did squat to show he even understands the problem. His idiot consultants had him hogtied into his choice strategy, never mind that it's not bigger than jobs.



      • BlueCat says:

        Definitely too little too late. I don't remember a single Udall ad targeted at raising the minimum wage. That doesn't mean there weren't any but who remembers them if there were? Nobody doesn't remember all the time he spent scowling into the camera about abortion rights.  All I remember from Romanoff ads are his being for education and for expecting the federal government to balance its budget the way the state does. 

        Education and choice are important. Romanoff's balanced budget ad was just plain stupid. More important, are any of those things the top priority for lunch bucket voters? Nope. But guess what? Dem economic policies really are better for lunch bucket and all other voters besides a few Masters of the Universe greed heads who will never feel that they are sufficiently richer and more powerful than everybody else no matter how much bigger their piece of the pie gets and everyone else's shrinks. But Joe Six pack has no way of knowing that if Dems are afraid to go there.

        Appealing to altruism doesn't win elections. Nobody who feels that they're struggling really wants to help the poor, minorities, polar bears etc. more than they want to help themselves. Dems should be and could be the practical self interested choice for all blue collar workers, including the white ones.They just need to grow a pair.

  7. Moderatus says:

    In 2014, the liberal chickens came home to roost. Obama's unpopularity, gun control, energy, it all came to a head: and voters rejected the Democrat vision of the future across America. Democrats have lost the youth vote and the independent vote, and now you're losing the blue collar vote. You've lost Congress permanently. You've lost 70% of state legislatures.

    What a great time to be a conservative!

    • ct says:

      Romney in a Landslide!  It was Ohio that cinched it!!!!  First one cycle then forever and forever and forevermore!  The thousand year Reich I mean permanent conservative majority! 

    • Windsor_scott says:

      Voter apathy and mid-term fatigue won this election for the "do nothing" party.  If you put any of the topics you mention to a direct vote they go in Dems favor.  Lets see, Obama won re-election and is far more popular than anyone in Congress.  Gun Control passed in the majority of the places it was on the ballot and when fracking bans were on the ballot they passed as well.

      Great time to be a conservative if you a Christian heterosexual rich white male, but pretty shitty for everyone else. Enjoy this election because it maybe the last one for a long time that such gains will be made by such a narrow party.     

    • BlueCat says:

      Liberal chickens? You can count liberal Dems in office an on one hand and Obama definitely isn't one of them.

      • FrankUnderwood says:

        Under Moderatus' definition of "liberal," everything ranging from Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Joe Manchin, Bob Casey, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman and to the left is considered "liberal."

  8. itlduso says:

    Great analysis.  Thanks to Pols for posting this.  Craig Hughes is immensely talented and we get the benefit of his analysis.

    Clearly, there was no message for middle class voters to pick the Dems in 2014.  For example, Andrew Romanoff's first commercial touted his support for a balanced budget Constitutional amendment.  When asked at a fundraising event what Romanoff would do first if elected he responded with ideas about education (good answer!).  I never heard him discuss a Constitutional amendment ever!  Udall, of course, pounded the abortion rights message ad nauseum.  None of these issues resonate with the middle class.   Finally, we have the NY Times article this week where Dem leaders like Pelosi and Steve Israel were somehow baffled with how to present a message when the economy is doing so well!  Good grief.

    We can only hope that the economy continues to improve when November, 2016 rolls around.  Perhaps the Dems can learn from Reagan and run their own "Morning in America" ads.

  9. madmike says:

    As long as centrist Democrats like Michael Bennet spew their Third-Way talking points and try to garner votes from conservative middle-of-the-roaders, they will continue to lose, just like Mark Udall did.  If you're a Democrat trying to sound like a Republican, those folks will do what makes perfect sense to them and vote for the one with the "R" next to their name.  The next two years should prove interesting.  Every time Republicans threaten to shut down the government, our President will offer a "compromise" that continues to erode the ranks of the middle class and Democrats in Congress like Michael Bennet and Ed Perlmutter will go along with him.  You can bet that things like chained CPI for social security, some type of voucher plan for Medicare, and further cuts to education will be on the table.  If Colorado Democrats are smart, they'll begin looking around right now for real progressives they can run against these limousine liberals in the primaries.  Otherwise, you can expect to see more of the same.

  10. Diogenesdemar says:

    Definitely not an expert — just my two cents, and a bit of paraphrasing from an article I read a couple of weeks ago.  (Probably NYT, but I'm not sure and had much too much of a shitty day to expend any research effort right now.)

    The elephant we're sincerely, but fumbling blindly, TT ying to describe is a  bit larger animal — although many of the pieces are being felt. 

    The Dems are losing the rapidly dwindling middle class on several fronts:

    1.  Numerically.  We like to spout about future demographic eventualities, but on of the most visible demographic trends goes totally unmentioned.  There isn't that much of a middle class left anymore and wage inequality is only hastening that demise.

    2.  Yes, Dems are seen as caring more for the welfare class, and societal special interests than the white working and middle class. That imaging problem is getting a good discussion here. 

    3.  And then we have that group of new, third-way dems as happy to hand out tax breaks to the 1%ers, and favorable treatment to Wall Street and the corporate oligarchs as any a Wall Street butt licking GOPer congressman. 

    4.  The issues of the middle class then — affordable quality higher education, pension and retirement protections, tax equity, income gap, tax breaks to corporations and favorable treatment to corporations who outsource formerly middle class work overseas, the opportunity for good employment and a better life for their children than they had (seen the polling on how few people think this is a liklehood today)? On, and on, and on . . .

    Yeah, there are a few Dems that get this — Elizabeth Warren and a small handful of others. And, yeah the Rs are no better — but they have been good at picking up the splinters from the old Dem alliance on some conservative issues.  But, I think the middle class, those dwindling remains, look at the Dems and say WTF?  No one represents me anymore, my needs, my concerns — and, what's worse no one is trying!!!  And, there's resentment that the Dems who used to promise to help and protect and represent the needs of my group, have abandoned what's left of us — while they're all too happy to assist the undeserving, and now also toady to the fantastically well to do!

    A middle class scorned . . . 

  11. Meiner49er says:

    Late to the party, but no one's asked this question, it's been on my mind, and I don't have access to the data that could answer it.

    If Republican turnout was down 2% but Dems struggled with older unaffiliated men, how many of those older unaffiliateds who propelled Gardner to the Senate were actually registered as Republicans in 2012 or 2010?

    I'm asking this because living up in Larimer as I do, I tend to take "unaffiliated" as a term designating voters to the RIGHT of the GOP rather than as a persuadable middle.  Some always were that far right, some left the GOP over the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, and some left over Romney in 2012.

    Seems to me that, if in fact Dems struggled with Unaffiliateds, and if in fact there has been a shift of hard right voters into the U column in the last few years, the problem my be less one of messaging to a persuadable unaffiliated middle and more one of a polarization of the electorate that would make messaging up the middle toxic.  Given that we Dems have similar problems on our left (though no where near as strident…yet), I think this question at least merits further exploration by those with access to the data (such as Hilltop, or the CDP) before we proclaim "the answers" for 2016.


Leave a Reply

Comment from your Facebook account

You may comment with your Colorado Pols account above (click here to register), or via Facebook below.