The Big Swing

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This article by Leah Todd first appeared in the June 12, 2017 issue of High Country News with the title “The Big Swing.”

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The Big Swing: Why a blue Colorado county voted for Trump

How a wave of retirees and a changed economic landscape reshaped rural politics.

A respectful hush falls over the living room of this large house just outside Walsenburg, Colorado. Members of the Huerfano County Republican Party have gathered here to celebrate President Donald Trump’s Inauguration, while a recording of the day’s events is projected on a tall wall. In the kitchen, a tiny jar of caviar sits among cheese platters and steaming crockpots on the granite countertop.

Debi Sporleder, the party’s chairwoman, bows her head and prays.

“Father, we just thank you for this day,” Sporleder says, her voice echoing down the long, museum-like hall. “All of us just stand in awe of how you’ve worked in our America. We love you. We praise you. In the name of your son, Jesus — and bless this food — Amen.”

A chorus of “Amens” follows. Chairs scrape the floor as people rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. Though the mood of this mostly older crowd is quiet and far from jubilant, tonight is a celebration.

Bolstered by transplants and new recruits, a resurgent local Republican Party mounted a formidable opposition last year to the Democrats, who had for decades enjoyed wide support in this former coal town. Local Republicans, led by Sporleder, mobilized voters, worked the phones, and manned Republican Party headquarters — the first in town in recent memory. Their efforts contributed to a surprising political about-face: Huerfano County voted red in the 2016 presidential election, departing from its long Democratic history to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of about 10 points. Whether the flip is a fluke or a harbinger of long-term change is more than just a political question for Huerfano County: It’s a reflection of the community’s past and, perhaps, its future.

The Huerfano County GOP celebrates on Inauguration Day.
Brooke Warren/High Country News

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Comments about this article

Peter Severson Subscriber
Jun 13, 2017 05:35 PM
Thanks, Leah, for this fascinating article. The rural-urban divide continues to shape Colorado politics in all sorts of unexpected ways. It is deeply concerning to see communities fraying that once had some sort of common civic character - not in the sense of supporting a single party, but in the sense that social bonds were built around common interests which made dialogue possible. I worry greatly for Huerfano County, and other rural counties, that are deeply dependent on federal programs and subsidies. I believe rural counties will be devastated if the policies advocated by this administration are ever enacted by Congress, and that is cause for serious lament (not celebration, as among some gloating cynics who are anxious for Republican-red rural areas to 'get what's coming to them').
But all the same, how can people be so blind? In the story, Ms. Sporleder says that previous presidents have forgotten about the "little guy." How could anyone believe that a fraudulent university proprietor sitting on a literal golden throne 50 stories above Manhattan would have the interests of the "little guy" at heart? The lament extends further to the deep misreading of Christian values that appears to have sunk in with many of these voters. Ms. Sporleder says, "(Trump) was put in place because he sought after God." As a Christian, I strenuously disagree. Sexually assaulting young women and threatening to deny food assistance & health care access to the poor are, to put it delicately, not things advocated by the Gospels. Even a cursory examination would reveal that Jesus and Ayn Rand are fundamentally incompatible.
HReading Subscriber
Jun 15, 2017 12:07 PM
Stupid people do stupid things. There was an alternative to the two right-wingers, Trump and Clinton, but people here in the U.S. are too dumb to count beyond two when it comes to political parties.

We're getting just what we deserve in this nondemocratic country of ours. Ms. Clinton, horrid as she and the corporate democwaps are, got the most popular votes by far, but in the land 'o freedom and "democracy", popular vote doesn't matter, just as the wealthy founders planned. Things will be coming to a head before long, and I bet the dummies will choose the fascist alternative...it's almost completely in place already thanks to Trump's predecessors, clear back to Truman. A steady regression, since the end of WWII.

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