GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. " Despite Democratic wins for the Senate, Congress and presidency in Colorado, Mesa County remained fire-engine red in its voting choices this year.
Republican candidates John McCain, Bob Schaffer and Wayne Wolf lost their races in Colorado Tuesday night, but won in Mesa County. County voters re-elected two Republican county commissioners, helped Grand Junction Republican Marcia Neal nab a seat on the state board of education and voted to bump two-term Democratic State Rep. Bernie Buescher of Grand Junction out of the race for speaker of the House and replace him in House District 55 with Collbran Republican Laura Bradford.
Bradford set her victory on Buescher's relationship with Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, a bond she emphasized in a recent campaign advertisement. In September, she said in an interview Buescher's seat was vulnerable in part because he voted for Ritter's mill levy freeze proposal in 2007. In a press conference Wednesday morning, Ritter called Buescher's defeat a "tremendous loss" and denied any fault on his part.
"Her (Bradford's) ad did tie me and Bernie together. Maybe she feels it was a referendum on me, but I think a lot of different things were happening in Mesa County," Ritter said. "It may be that there are partisan politics over there."
Bradford disagreed, saying her platform of low taxes was in contrast to Democratic views and pulled her across the finish line.
"I think it was the taxes " I stayed on that and the mill levy freeze from the beginning," she said.
On the campaign trail this year, Buescher and county commissioner candidates Dan Robinson and Dickie Lewis agreed they had an uphill battle considering Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two to one in Mesa County. But all believed voters in this county vote for people, not political parties.
Robinson said following his 38,494-to-25,455 defeat to Republican Craig Meis he's not so sure the county's Republican sweep was based on more than people holding an "R" beside their names. Although he said Republicans and Democrats are equally "decent" people, he's not sure local Republicans are voting in their best interest.
"I think their voting reflects poor critical thinking," he said. "Probably the best example is Bernie and me. If you look at our resumes and look at our experience, our background, our education, the ideas we have " those were rejected by the Republicans. Under any objective circumstances, if you ask who is better qualified, clearly it's Bernie and me."
"I think we'll see the results of this thoughtless response to local issues."
Robinson said Democrats' best shot at future wins in Mesa County is to focus on young voters and Hispanic voters and remain committed to their views instead of pandering to the right. In the meantime, he said the county remains "ruby red," although he's not sure why.
"The Republican Party after this election is reduced down to a southern white party. Why Mesa County identifies with that value system is a mystery to me," he said.
Meis said conservative Republican values work for Western Colorado because rural, self-sufficient people fit better with Republicans' smaller government theories.
Contrary to Robinson's comments, Meis believes Mesa County voters research a candidate's background and voting record more thoroughly than some other residents of Colorado. He said the two-party system can't take all the blame for who wins or loses in Mesa County. The second largest party affiliation in the county is independents.
"We have a huge independent voting block here, and they carry the day," Meis said. "I will always say it's person over party (people vote for), whether I won or lost."
No matter what caused his loss, Buescher said he's glad Mesa County let him serve in the Legislature for four years. He believes Mesa County has grown more conservative since he first entered office with just the right margin to derail his candidacy.
"I guess I should be very pleased to get elected twice, and I am," Buescher said. "Three to four percent changed their mind and that makes a difference. I don't know, all I can say is I've worked hard."
Reach Emily Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.