- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

DENVER — The silver lining for Democrats in this year’s election could be found in Colorado, where the party bucked the national Republican tide by winning a tight Senate race and wresting control of the Statehouse from Republicans.

The hot topic among state politicos is whether those victories show that Colorado is morphing from a red to a blue state as Democrats win the hearts and minds of voters or whether the Democrats just spent more cash.

Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Chris Gates agreed that money was a factor, but also argued that the party had “the better message and the better candidates.” Others credited the Democrats with running a smarter, more energetic campaign.

“The resources certainly came into play, but it was more than that. The Democratic 527s spent their money in a timely fashion, and the Republicans were slow to realize what was going on and meet the challenge,” said Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann.

At the same time, he said, he wouldn’t characterize it as a realigning election or Democratic revolution.

“This was not akin to the Newt Gingrich revolution in 1994, where there was this overarching message that swept all these new people into office,” Mr. Sondermann said. “This was a lot of very successful micro-campaigns, where they figured out what the hot buttons were and they pushed them.”

The financial disparity was most striking at the state level, where Democratic groups outspent Republicans by a 3-1 margin, thanks largely to the efforts of independent 527 committees financed by four Colorado millionaires.

That money helped the Democrats flip one state Senate seat, giving them an 18-17 majority. In the state House, the independent committees targeted four Republicans and defeated three, giving them a 34-31 edge.

The election marked the first time since 1960 that Democrats have held majorities in both houses of the Colorado legislature. It also was the only election in the nation in which one party lost control of both houses.

Even so, Republicans warned against coloring Colorado blue, or even purple. State Senate President John Andrews, who is retiring because of term limits, credited the Democrats with figuring out the new campaign-finance rules faster, implementing a smarter strategy and raising the cash to back it up.

But Colorado, which also gave President Bush a seven-point margin of victory, continues to be a solidly red state, Mr. Andrews said.

“Colorado remains a conservative state. We again went solid red for President Bush,” he said. “Our down-ballot losses resulted from some unfavorable candidate matchups and poor generalship by all of us in the GOP command.”

He also blamed the deep pockets of the four Democratic benefactors: billionaire medical-equipment heiress Pat Stryker; Quark founder Tim Gill; greeting-card heir Jared Polis; and software entrepreneur Rutt Bridges. The four donors contributed 80 percent of the $2 million spent by Democratic groups on state races, working through committees with names such as Forward Colorado and Coalition for a Better Colorado.

Others argue that voters were fed up with the Republican legislature’s inability to resolve the state budget crisis, among other issues.

“Coloradans clearly were demanding answers to the state fiscal crisis that has forced massive slashes in higher education, highway funding and social programs — problems a Republican-controlled legislature and [Republican] Gov. Bill Owens failed to solve,” the liberal-leaning Denver Post said in a Nov. 4 editorial.

The Senate race was another matter entirely, the analysts said. Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar and Republican beer magnate Pete Coors both amassed huge war chests, but it was Mr. Salazar’s personal popularity that proved decisive.

With 18 years of public service under his belt, Mr. Salazar was well-known to voters, and even some Republicans were accustomed to voting for him. The other factor was location: Raised on a farm in the rural San Luis Valley, he was able to reap votes in conservative farming communities that normally vote Republican.

Whether Colorado is on a long-term trend to the left can’t be decided on the basis of one election, Mr. Sondermann said.

“The Democrats need to show that they can hold this victory and that they have staying power before we start switching the Crayola color,” he said.

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