Colorado Republicans re-elected Bush – but they did little else
It has been a tough year for Colorado Republicans. We again carried Colorado for President Bush. With a GOP voter-registration edge of 186,000, we darn well should have. But that was all we did. Down-ballot, this was the ugliest election I’ve experienced in my 30 years here.While our party did well nationally, in Colorado we lost a U.S. Senate and congressional seat, control of both houses in the Legislature (“a 44-year first”), and three big ballot issues.The somber weeks since the election have seen much soul-searching among Colorado’s GOP leadership. Why did a state so reliably red for so long vote deep blue all down the ticket below Bush-Cheney?It’s been suggested that the big Republican voter-registration edge hides a quiet leftward shift in Coloradans’ political preferences, driven by heavy migration from California and other West Coast states we’ve seen since 1990. If so, Bush wouldn’t have won here by several points while Senate candidate Pete Coors, a shade less conservative, was losing by a similar margin.”They don’t like us any more” is too easy an out; it doesn’t fit the facts. Neither does the other comforting excuse: “They buried us in dollars.” It’s true Salazar significantly outspent the wealthy Coors, and Democrats poured almost $7 million into legislative races, twice what Republicans spent. But to really explain what happened you must examine the three M’s – money, message, and motivation – of which finances are the least important.It was motivation that powered this Democrat victory. Democrats were driven and hungry from decades in the political wilderness. Republicans were complacent and soft from too long in power. Their motive for winning was to get in there and do things. Ours, it seemed, was merely to stay there. These attitudes translated into discipline and unity for Democrats, indulgence and disunity for Republicans. GOP factionalism was endemic and fatal.The message gap was a consequence of this motivation gap. Democrats talked about making Colorado a better state, about not letting Republicans cut cherished programs, and about the GOP’s supposed obsession with “gays, guns, and God.” Republicans talked about … what? Other than denying their charges and hurling some back, we pretty much punted. Republican candidates picked their own issues locally. Churchill would have called it a pudding with no theme.Our campaign had what one analyst termed a sort of Nixon-Ford tiredness and blandness. I had considered, in 2003, framing a conservative Contract with Colorado to provide a single, statewide framework for all 75 state Senate and House races. After sizing up the competing intra-party fiefdoms and tensions, I decided not to start that fight. Mea culpa; I should have fought.So because of yawning gaps in motivation and message between Republicans and Democrats, there was naturally a money chasm between the parties as well. Duh. They had the foresight and will to enact lopsided campaign-finance rules giving labor the advantage over business. We lacked the toughness to either defeat or circumvent those rules. They recruited several leftist millionaires to carpet-bomb us with 527 spending. Our millionaires were mostly AWOL.The dollar disparity hurt, sure, but it was a symptom of a much deeper problem for Colorado’s GOP. A political party is an idea before it’s a checkbook, organization, or platform. The idea that has inspired Republicans from Lincoln to Reagan to George W. Bush is an optimistic, assertive defense of ordered liberty and traditional values. That idea lost its voice in the Centennial State. Recovering it will be job one for us in 2005.John Andrews of Centennial, a member of the Colorado Senate since 1998 and its president since 2003, leaves office on term limits next month.
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