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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Barabak: Democratic Gains In Colorado Open Up ‘New West’

For an optimistic look at the Democratic party’s future, check out Mark Z. Barabak’s column, “From red bastion to blue bulwark: What political shift in Colorado and West means for U.S.” at The Los Angeles Times. Among Barabak’s observations:

For much of its history, the West was Republican ground. Today, it’s a bastion of Democratic support, a shift that has transformed presidential politics nationwide. Mark Z. Barabak will explore the forces that remade the political map in a series of columns called “The New West.”

In the last two decades, the Republican ranks in Colorado have shrunk drastically, to just a quarter of registered voters, as the once reliably red state has turned a distinct shade of blue.

In the last two decades, the Republican ranks in Colorado have shrunk drastically, to just a quarter of registered voters, as the once reliably red state has turned a distinct shade of blue.

The transformation is part of a larger political shift across the West: along the Pacific Coast, through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, into the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and New Mexico. Once a Republican bulwark, the region has become Democratic bedrock. That, in turn, has reshaped presidential politics nationwide.

With a big chunk of the West — California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington — seemingly locked up, Democrats are free to focus more heavily on the perennial battlegrounds of the Midwest and venture into once-solidly Republican states such as Georgia.

Barabak plans to visit western states for a series “to explore the forces that remade the political map.” Further,

The changes didn’t just happen, like the snow embroidering the Rockies in winter, or the runoff that swells Colorado’s icy rivers in the spring. It took money, strategy, demographic changes and, not least, a sharp rightward turn by Republicans.

The series, called “The New West,” begins in Colorado, as no state in the region has changed its partisan coloration as emphatically over the last two decades. “From a western swing state, it has become a Democratic stronghold,” said pollster Floyd Ciruli, who’s sampled public opinion in Colorado for more than 40 years.

In 2004, Democrats essentially gave up and wrote the place off; they’ve carried Colorado in every presidential contest since. In 2020, Joe Biden romped to a 13-point win over President Trump, the largest Democratic victory here in more than half a century.

Barabak explains that “Colorado has long been a magnet for twenty- and thirty-somethings, drawn by the state’s mouthwatering scenery, outdoorsy lifestyle and, more recently, its thriving tech and service industries.” Also,

What has changed are those who’ve found their home in the Democratic Party: They are younger, more affluent, better educated, and more liberal on issues such as abortion and gay rights….In short, Democrats are now much more in tune with Colorado, one of the best-educated and socially liberal states in the country, as the Republican base has gotten older, less educated, more evangelical and more Trumpy.

However, “The state is “not a playground for the fringe left,” said Chris Hughes, a former Colorado Democratic Party chairman. “It’s not a state like Maryland, where whoever the Democrat is they’ll win.”….“Coloradans tend to be very moderate,” said Democratic strategist Craig Hughes. “Anyone who puts personal ideology over solutions is going to run afoul of the Colorado electorate.”

In terms of party preference, “Unaffiliated voters are the majority at 45%, followed by Democrats at 28% and Republicans at 25%; for decades the parties were at rough parity, with about a third of the electorate each.)….Republicans were in decline in Colorado well before Trump bulled his way into the White House. The former president’s deceit and the mayhem he spawned hastened the free fall.”

Despite the grotesque underrepresentation of California in the U.S. Senate, the west may soon lead the way to a stable Democratic majority in both houses of congress and a more secure Democratic hold of the presidency. But it won’t happen automatically, and it will require that Democrats successfully ‘brand’ their party as the rational alternative to the G.O.P.’s extremist drift.

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