Colorado: The West's true swing state

  • Mike Keefe, caglecartoons.com
 

Congressman John Salazar has a tough job. His constituents are scattered across a huge swath of Colorado's rural Western Slope, over a political and demographic spectrum that ranges from oil and gas roughnecks in conservative Grand Junction to creative-class telecommuters in liberal Telluride. But most of Salazar's constituents lie somewhere in between and share a strong independent streak; H. Ross Perot carried two counties in this district in 1992. Salazar -- a Blue Dog, NRA-endorsed Democrat who toes a conservative line -- has managed to stay in office for three terms.

Now, polls show that Republican Scott Tipton, a businessman and state representative who lost to Salazar in 2004, may end Salazar's reign. Tipton picked up just enough Tea Party support to beat the Sarah Palin-endorsed Bob McConnell in the primary. But he didn't have to tilt too far right to do it, giving him independent-voter appeal and a lead in the polls.

Colorado is a true swing state: Official voter registration is divided almost evenly between Republicans, Democrats and non-affiliated, and the state apparently has more Tea Party voters than any other -- a fact that's stirred up some statewide races, too.

When Gov. Bill Ritter chose not to seek re-election early this year, he opened the door for what promised to be a fierce gubernatorial race between Democratic Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and West Slope Republican/former Congressman Scott McInnis. Then McInnis got busted for plagiarism -- he lifted entire pages of text for a fellowship -- and Tea Party darling and political novice Dan Maes won the Republican primary. Meanwhile, former Republican congressman, current American Constitution Party-member and anti-immigration rabble-rouser Tom Tancredo jumped into the governor's race. With notorious Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and tattoo-covered cable TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter campaigning for Tancredo, this race promises to be more spectacle than political drama. And Hickenlooper is almost sure to win.

Last year, Ritter appointed a political neophyte, then-Superintendent of Denver Schools Michael Bennet, to the Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar (John Salazar's brother, now Interior secretary). Republicans licked their chops. Even though their establishment candidate -- former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton -- lost in the primary to Tea Partier Ken Buck, their chances are still good: Buck, the charismatic district attorney for Weld County, has managed to scurry away from some of his most extreme primary-era positions.

Also watch Freshman Democratic Congresswoman Betsy Markey, who represents a usually conservative-leaning district on the Eastern Plains, might lose her seat to Republican legislator Cory Gardner. But a wild card -- American Constitution Party candidate Doug Aden -- could save her by pulling Tea Party votes away from Gardner.

Green factors All the Democrats have conservationist cred. Salazar and Bennet supported wilderness bills, and Hickenlooper implemented water conservation, greenhouse gas reduction and green building and transportation initiatives in Denver. Meanwhile, Maes denounced Hickenlooper's bike-sharing program, the biggest in the nation, as a U.N. plot. Colorado Conservation Voters say Tipton voted for environmental positions only 18 percent of the time and Gardner only 33 percent.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.