More telling in 2004 was the presidential election. Colorado was one of only two states where George W. Bush didn’t win bigger in ’04 than he did in ’00; he beat Kerry by less than 5 percent of the vote. On an otherwise dark day for Democrats, Colorado was one of the few bright spots.
Things were even brighter for the Dems in 2006: Bill Ritter crushed a primary-wounded, poor-campaigning Bob Beauprez, giving the Dems control of the governor’s mansion and the state Legislature for the first time since the Kennedy administration. Ed Perlmutter defeated his Republican opponent for Beauprez’s old seat, and Democrats Mark Udall, Diana DeGette, and John Salazar tightened their death-grips on their seats. Just take a look at the increase of votes cast for Colorado Democrats running for House seats from 2002 to 2006.
Statewide, Democrats won a higher percentage of all votes cast than they ever had before. All of a sudden, Colorado was looking blue. Here’s a chart combining all seven districts.
Meanwhile, in Other Western States…
Colorado wasn’t alone—Democrats across the West also did well. Democratic gubernatorial incumbents in Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming were convincingly re-elected, and Montana—Montana!—now has a Democratic governor, two Democratic Senators, and a split legislature. Several Western House seats went to the left, and four states in the Interior West, including Colorado, passed ballot measures to raise the minimum wage, a longtime Republican no-no that’s widely supported by the public. Here’s a look at how things got purple across the West.
Many analysts have ascribed the Democratic rise to the backlash from Bush and Rumsfeld’s Not-So-Excellent Iraqi Adventure, and it’s a big factor for the national Democrats regaining slim margins in the Senate and House. But the war is not the only reason that Democrats were elected in the West; back in ’04, when public opinion hadn’t yet swung against the Iraq war, Colorado Democrats were already succeeding.
“I think we’ve done a better job recruiting candidates,” says Wellington Webb, former Denver mayor and a past contender for the Democratic National Committee chairman’s seat. “The winning candidates [both Salazars and Ritter] have been primarily centrist, and I think that says a lot about where the country is and where the state is.”
But it’s not just Bush and centrist Democrats who are pulling Colorado leftward—it’s also a shift in demographics. Consider:
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial titled, “Californians—The GOP’s Real Migrant Problem” by Ryan Sager (author of The Elephant in the Room), claimed that much of Colorado (and the Southwest in general) was becoming Californified—and therefore bluer—by the influx of settlers from the left coast. Numbers bear the writer out: Six percent of folks living in Colorado were born in California (a big number, but peanuts compared to the 18 percent of Nevadans from California). Sager called this a “bucket of blue paint on the coast overflowing and spilling East.”
What makes the bucket blue? Education, for one thing. About 1 million Coloradans over 25 years old possess college degrees—one of the highest rates in the country. Three-quarters of those degree holders, however, weren’t born in Colorado, meaning that a significant number of Colorado migrants are well-educated. And college degrees tend to favor the Democrats—Kerry beat out Bush in 2004 among Colorado college graduates (50 percent to 48 percent), while Western Democratic House members did even better (54 percent to 43 percent). In 2006, the difference was even more pronounced—59 percent voted Democrat.
In short, more transplants means more college degrees. And more college degrees mean more Democrat voters.