Colorado Republicans, stung by years of bitter infighting, turned their muscle on Democrats instead of one another this election, stealthily creeping through blue-collar and crucial counties, and racking up one vote after another.
Superstitious after years of heartbreak, they searched for a location for their election night party where they had never lost before.
The cheers Tuesday night at the Denver Tech Center Hyatt Regency ballroom nearly drowned out Congressman Cory Gardner after he climbed the stage to claim the distinction of being the first Coloradan in 36 years to defeat an incumbent U.S. senator.
Democrat Mark Udall had seemed too serious, too stiff during a campaign where half his ads at one point mentioned abortion, birth control or rape. But Udall’s concession speech was so heartfelt, so authentic it moved Colorado Republican Party spokesman Owen Loftus.
“We’re lucky that guy didn’t show up on the campaign trail,” Loftus said.
Because many of the early returns involved GOP ballots, the initial tally showed voters kicking out Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, too, 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.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora cruised to a 9-point victory in a seat earlier crowned the most competitive congressional district in the country.
Democrats retained control of the state House, although the GOP defeated three incumbents.
Republicans now have a one-seat majority in the state Senate after a decade of Democratic control.
“The untold story is Colorado didn’t get swept away in a GOP wave,” said Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, pointing to what happened in other states.
The Denver Post interviewed more than two dozen people and sifted through voting data and turnout models to try to piece together how the election went down. Republican turnout exploded in two critical GOP counties, El Paso and Douglas. Udall underperformed in some traditional Democratic strongholds, such as Pueblo and Adams counties, which Hickenlooper carried.
Blame and praise were assigned and deflected, but on this both sides agreed:
Colorado Republicans blindsided Democrats. And Hickenlooper’s quirky personality and Gardner’s sunny nature appealed to voters.
Gardner’s campaign manager, Chris Hansen, checked his buzzing cellphone. It was Oct. 10, and the campaign was at a local watering hole celebrating its surprise endorsement from The Denver Post’s editorial page and the national attention it received.
“It’s a reporter. He wants to talk about the ground game,” Hansen said, putting the phone down. “We never talk about the ground game.”
Even Gardner would echo that talking point, telling U.S. News & World Report last month, “What happens in Fight Club stays in Fight Club.”
Part of it, Hansen said, was the campaign wanted to brag about Gardner, not the behind-the-scenes efforts. Democrats touted their numbers — field offices, staffers, volunteers, doors knocked on — but seemed unaware that massive voter-contact efforts were quietly underway by Republicans across Colorado and the country.
A computer whiz who grew up in Greeley had helped President Obama’s campaign win re-election with complex targeting and data. The Republican National Committee, caught by surprise, in response changed in a major way how it used data and technology to turn out voters. Among the Republicans targeted this year: those who voted in the presidential election in 2012 but not in the mid-term election in 2010.
“It was the Obama model in that volunteers were going back and having conversations with the same people again and again,” Coffman’s campaign manager, Tyler Sandberg, said. “Democrats have produced a great ground game for many, many years, but I think they were so used to running against a nonexistent Republican ground game that they took it for granted.”
The 6th Congressional District that Coffman has represented since 2009 used to lean hard right, but following the 2010 Census, the boundaries were redrawn, and he found himself in a competitive district that covers portions of Arapahoe and Adams counties and a smidge of Douglas County.
Two years ago, a relatively unknown state lawmaker nearly unseated Coffman, who then began a slow glide to the middle on some issues. This election, the congressman faced a Democratic powerhouse, the popular former speaker of the House, Andrew Romanoff, who had declined to run in 2012.
Democrats were counting on their ground game, which had produced a spectacular victory in 2010 for Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who beat Republican Ken Buck by 1.7 percentage points in another wave GOP year.
Less than 24 hours before Election Day, Udall’s campaign manager, Adam Dunstone, checked and rechecked his math. The polling hadn’t been great for Udall, but polls in 2010 also showed Bennet losing.
Supporters had knocked on more than 250,000 doors in the previous three days and planned to hit another 160,000 on Election Day alone, he said. And these folks weren’t going into Colorado neighborhoods at random. The nerve center inside Udall campaign headquarters was a small room where about a dozen staff members stared at computer screens. Their job was to oversee the invasion. If Udall wasn’t getting enough support in Jefferson County, for example, they would know it — and in response send teams of volunteers to rustle up votes.
Because of the importance of the mission, and the fact they knew the voting “score” as it came in, the campaign was forced to put a sign on the door to keep away curious volunteers. “Do Not Enter. Please e-mail or chat your point of contact in this room,” read the entry to the inner sanctum.
This faith in the science of campaigning — from Dunstone on down — was the security blanket that kept Udall’s people from losing hope in the final days.
This reliance on math was one reason why, despite broad criticism, Udall focused on issues of personhood and contraception throughout the campaign: It moved the numbers, Dunstone said.
A week before the election, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb sounded an alarm: Unless Democrats stepped up their game in the waning days, they were in danger of suffering huge losses.
“There was no passion among our base,” Webb said. “Contrary to some of the neophytes in the party, I know how to read a map and I know how to read numbers. And the numbers were coming in low from some of our traditionally heavy precincts.”
Final-minute, ballot-chasing efforts helped stave off a total disaster. Despite the wave, the state House stayed Democrat, the state Senate was lost by only one seat and Hickenlooper avoided the distinction of being the first elected Colorado governor since 1962 to be canned by voters.
“I’ve got to compliment the Republicans,” Webb said. “They did a better job than us on the ground. We normally excel in our ground game.”
Adams County long has been considered a reliable Democratic stronghold, even though its Reagan Democrats tend to side with Republicans on Second Amendment and other issues. Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson, who upset the Democrat candidate in 2008 by 432 votes, is the lone Adams County Republican in the legislature, but he’ll have company next year.
Republicans won an open Senate seat that gave them the majority for the next two years, and they defeated an incumbent House member.
“I think Democrats took Adams County for granted,” said Erik Hansen, a Republican elected to his second term on the county commission. “They didn’t put in any resources in it, and we recruited better candidates than we have in the past.”
Hansen also pointed out that Adams County is growing, the demographics have shifted and foreclosures hit the area hard after the recession. “There’s still a lot of angst,” he said.
Coffman clobbered Romanoff in Adams County and won that part of his district by 11 percentage points. Udall led Gardner by 3,660 votes in unofficial returns; four years ago, Bennet beat Buck by 8,155 votes. “We worked Adams hard,” said Hansen, Gardner’s campaign manager.
Hansen said Republicans also turned to Pueblo County. A year ago, voters in the heavily Democratic county ousted Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron from her Pueblo seat after she supported tougher gun bills, and they chose a Republican to replace her.
“That told us that Pueblo had decided that the Denver-Boulder kind of ‘latte liberals’ had left them. They’re a different kind of Democrats in Pueblo. They’re gun-loving, church-going, union Democrats,” Hansen said.
Udall unofficially beat Gardner by only 389 votes in Pueblo County. In 2010, Bennet beat Buck by 10,875 votes.
“Maybe a dose of humility for Colorado Democrats isn’t a bad thing,” said Stu Rothenberg of the nonpartisan national Rothenberg Political Report.
Read the full article here: http://www.denverpost.com/environment/ci_26899759/colorado-girds-proliferating-people-and-increasingly-scarce-water?source=infinite.