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
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • DEVELOMENT DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness is seeking a qualified Development Director to manage the fundraising success of our growing organization, including the team-driven implementation of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...