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Feeling Blue in Larimer County

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A few minutes before 9 p.m. on Election Night, Adam Bowen is struggling to finish his sentences. Standing amid a hotel conference room full of supporters at the Marriott in south Fort Collins, Bowen, the chair of the Larimer County Democratic Party, seems partly consumed by the magnitude of the evening and otherwise distracted by people streaming by to share words of appreciation.

“Good times, good times,” he repeats to those who stop to shake his hand or express thanks. Someone pours him a glass of champagne. On the big screens in the room, CNN calls Virginia for Barack Obama, and Bowen, dressed in a black jacket, charcoal slacks, a white shirt, and baby-blue tie, jumps up on a chair and lets out a whoop.

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Four years ago, Betsy Markey was the county party chair. Tonight, she is on the verge of claiming victory against Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, the three-term incumbent Republican in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District.

Bowen settles down long enough to mention that one of the Denver TV stations has apparently called the race for Markey, who is sequestered upstairs with her family and staff for the moment, and he tries to share his thoughts on why.

“I think the Republicans have been pushing a narrow social agenda and–Oh! Colorado! Wooo!”

The big screens have given the Centennial State to Obama, and moments later the TVs announce that the Democratic presidential candidate has gained 270 electoral votes and won the presidency. It is as if Colorado has singularly put Obama over the top, a sweet, sweet feeling for Bowen and the room.

“He beat him like a drum,” Bowen says of Obama’s victory over John McCain, shouting to a colleague amid the pandemonium.

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Consider: The last time a majority of Larimer County voters picked a Democrat for president was 1916, and the candidate was Woodrow Wilson.

“FDR never once carried Larimer County. LBJ, when he won big, didn’t win Larimer County,” Bowen says. Bill Clinton carried the county in 1992, but with only 38 percent of the vote and due to third-party candidate Ross Perot.

During an acceptance speech, Fort Collins state Representative Randy Fischer lauds local get-out-the-vote efforts and calls Bowen “one of the main reasons we can now call Larimer County a blue county and Colorado a blue state.”

Markey’s defeat of Musgrave is another epic outcome. She will be the first Democrat to represent the Fourth District since Wayne Aspinall in 1972, and anyone who knows Colorado history will recall Aspinall as a staunch conservative.

Markey doesn’t evoke Aspinall, but she has followed the formula for success of her former employer, Senator Ken Salazar, in portraying herself as a somewhat moderate Democrat concerned with small business and the state economy. Factor in excitement raised by Obama and voters’ fatigue with Republicans’ “narrow social agenda”–including Musgrave’s dubious claim to fame as the backer of a Federal Marriage Amendment–and the results are astounding.

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“The strategy’s always been, you win big in Larimer County and Longmont,” says Bowen, speaking with a supporter, “and you lose Weld County by less.” Markey pulled off a landslide in Larimer, but, amazingly, she even won the traditional Republican stronghold of Weld.

“I think the Republicans ran out of gas with their message. The liberal tag has worn out,” Bowen continues. “We’re gonna govern the next four years–two years in the case of Betsy–and we’re gonna show some results.”

Bowen says he doesn’t plan to personally figure into the governing part and follow in Markey’s footsteps from party chair to candidate.

“I’ve got two teenage kids and I’m a single dad,” he explains. But he does have a more immediate goal: “I want to go home and pull up one of the websites and watch our county turn blue.”

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