Where Colorado Stands On National Stage

Photo: Ashley Bauler


Though mainstream media continues to tout Colorado as a political battleground during national elections, its time as a definitional swing state began and ended with the Obama Administration.

Colorado’s electoral votes have gone to Republican presidential candidates in seven of the last 10 elections. Before 2008, Colorado voted Democrat only one time in nearly four decades (a sudden move leftward helped to elect President Bill Clinton in 1992). When the state went to President Barack Obama in 2008, the nation was shocked; when it moved to reelect him in 2012, the result was expected.  

Now, a week away from deciding 2016’s winning campaign, polls indicate that Colorado’s nine electoral votes are almost certainly due to bolster Secretary Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency. How did the state’s political allegiances shift so thoroughly moving from red to purple to blue—in less than 10 years?

Obama’s ascendance to the Oval Office is the stuff of political legend. The little-known and unusually inexperienced senator drove young voters across all demographics to the ballots in record numbers and thus handily dominated the distribution of the electoral college votes.

“2008 was a game changer,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino. Kumar met with the Sentry and Colorado campaign organizers ahead of her Oct. 26 speech in the Tivoli Quad before America Ferrara took the stage. Voto Latino is a nonpartisan group that aspires to get as many people registered to vote as they can in the face of minority voter suppression. “People thought we were crazy when we came to Colorado in 2007—no other group arrived until July and August of 2008.”

Obama’s opponent was the venerated war hero Senator John McCain, and the odds of a staunchly Republican Colorado going blue were slim to none. But with the help of groups like Voto Latino, minorities made their voices heard.

“Everything changed,” Kumar said. “In 2008, when Colorado was called after Florida, we already which way the election was going. But in 2012, when Colorado [went to Obama] early on, it became an indicator state.”

While President Obama delivered scores of speeches in Colorado in 2012, the Clinton campaign is apparently comfortable with the Secretary’s approximated seven-point lead here—Donald Trump is outpacing her in Colorado-based events with a three-to-one ratio.

Colorado’s leftward movement in the last four years is easier to explain than in previous elections: 2012’s legalization of recreational marijuana changed the political landscape of the state in permanent ways. Denver’s population skyrocketed as people migrated here by the tens of thousands, and tech start-ups and other major companies followed their lead to reap the benefits of a newly booming area. Even though nine other states are set to legalize recreational marijuana on Nov. 8, those jobs will remain in Colorado, as will the liberal-leaning millennials that occupy their ranks.

Though Colorado’s electorate is severely segregated—Colorado Springs and Pueblo remain deeply conservative, among rural ranching and farming communities throughout the western and eastern slopes, especially when foiled against the liberal state capital—its place as a purple state was short lived: Denver’s booming population size means it decides the swing of the state, and for the time being, its voices will stay the course of progressive politics.

Taylor Kirby
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