Garfield County GOP celebrates party sweep
Cautious optimism turned to surprise and then jubilation for Garfield County Republicans on Election Day as the GOP won big up and down the ballot.
“It was a much better evening than four years ago,” Garfield Republican Party Chairman Dave Merritt said Wednesday of the party’s gathering at K Seas Winghouse and Sports Bar in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Republican Jeff Cheney unseated Democrat Sherry Caloia and topped independent Chip McCrory for 9th District attorney, and Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin won a sixth term in office over Democratic challenger John Acha.
Republicans also retained the area’s seats in the state Legislature and in Congress, and Garfield County favored Republican Darryl Glenn over Democrat Michael Bennet for U.S. Senate, though Bennet ultimately won re-election.
The big prize for Republicans locally and nationally, though, was Donald Trump’s White House win.
“All of the experts were saying for weeks that this may be the biggest blowout ever for the Democrats,” Merritt said.
Though Hillary Clinton won Colorado as a whole and its nine electoral votes, Garfield County joined the rest of the nation in handing a huge upset win to one of the most unorthodox Republican candidates ever in Trump.
The New York billionaire carried the county with 49.5 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 43.1 percent and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s 4 percent.
Merritt said the misread on the national front was likely due to the fact that many eventual Trump voters were silent ahead of time about their willingness to support the party’s divisive nominee.
“There was so much complete animosity against him that a lot of people were keeping their own counsel,” he said.
Ultimately, he said the election brought out people who hadn’t voted for a long time.
“As a party we really targeted the unaffiliated voters,” Merritt said. “Folks were just very concerned about how things have been going the last eight years.”
Garfield County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Shivley said that going after unaffiliated voters was something his party could have done a better job of.
“Going forward, we do need to be able to not only work with our own constituency but with the unaffiliated voters in this county. I think we missed a good chance there,” Shivley said.
“For now, we keep moving our message forward,” he said. “I don’t think we have a wrong message, I just think it was the wrong time.”
One of the last regional races to be called around midnight Tuesday was for the 3rd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Scott Tipton cruised to victory over Democratic challenger Gail Schwartz.
Though final results were uncertain late into the night, Tipton maintained a 54.7 percent to 40.4 percent margin over Schwartz after Pueblo County returns finally were reported. Tipton ultimately won that and the other two most populous counties in the district, Garfield and Mesa.
In Garfield County, 50.2 percent of voters favored Tipton to 45.8 percent for Schwartz and 4 percent for Libertarian Gaylon Kent.
Tipton, in his victory statement sent Wednesday morning, also spoke to a broader mood among voters that ultimately favored Republicans as Colorado’s mail balloting concluded Tuesday.
“Traveling throughout the district, constituents constantly tell me that they are not feeling the economic recovery they keep hearing about,” Tipton said. “We have a tale of two economies. Denver and our resort communities are doing well, but our western, rural and southern communities have not benefited from this growth.
“In my next term, I will remain committed to finding solutions to unleash rural economic development that creates growth beyond the Front Range,” he said.
Merritt and Shivley both expressed their disappointment with the outcome of two statewide ballot questions that will affect party politics in future years.
Proposition 107, re-establishing a presidential primary for Colorado in place of the preferential polling at Democrat and Republican party caucuses, passed easily across the state with nearly 64 percent of voters in favor.
The companion Proposition 108, opening the primaries to unaffiliated voters, also passed with 52.5 percent in favor.
“I was not a proponent for that,” Shivley said.
“Parties are private organizations where members pay dues, and we should be able to choose our own candidates,” he said. “I know it seems kind of hard core, but I worry about losing the ability to gather with other Democrats in our neighborhoods to discuss things. Hopefully, good things and good candidates come out of that.”
Merritt agreed the party’s nominating procedures should be preserved.
“Opening it up creates some real problems,” he said, namely in the more condensed time frame for parties to select candidates to put forth in the primary elections.
“We now have to fit in our caucuses, the county assembly and state convention in three and a half weeks less than we used to,” Merritt said of the lead-up to the late June primary.
Regarding the presidential primary, he said it also locks delegates into committing to a candidate who could drop out of the race soon after Colorado’s primary election.
The measures were pushed by supporters of opening up the candidate selection process to accommodate the roughly 48 percent of registered voters in the state who choose not to align with a specific political party.
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