The Spot: Five storylines from Election Day in Colorado

Good morning and welcome to a very special edition of The Spot, The Denver Post’s weekly political newsletter. This morning we’re bringing you the latest news and analysis on yesterday’s historic midterm election. Let’s get right to it. Here are five big storylines that emerged out of last night that will drive the body politic for the conceivable future:

Colorado Democrats have the trifecta. Will they blow it?

Now that we know Democrats have regained control of the Senate as well as the House and the governor’s office, for many political operatives in both political parties, the question is not whether they’ll overreach, but when.

According to this beautiful graphic by our digital strategist Kevin Hamm, Democrats are poised to have at least a one-seat majority in the Senate. In the House, their lead is sitting at seven. (These numbers can change as results trickle in through the day Wednesday. House Democrats put out a statement after midnight that said their caucus could grow to 42 — nearly a super-majority.)

Both state House Majority Leader KC Becker and Senate Minority (for now) Leader Leroy Garcia told The Denver Post they dismiss the premise that they’ll overplay their hand.

“If people felt that way, they wouldn’t have elected Democrats by wide margins,” Garcia said. “Tonight we’re seeing resounding support and encouragement from voters who want a change.”

Unaffiliated voters made their presence felt.

At 8:28 p.m. the Secretary of State’s Office released its latest breakdown of turnout. It showed that unaffiliated voters had turned in more ballots than Democratic or Republican voters.

This. Is. Unprecedented.

This spike in unaffiliated voters didn’t come out of nowhere. Unaffiliateds make up the largest bloc of active voters. And we’ve reported before that they were turning in ballots at a quicker rate than in 2014. But few of the political watchers I spoke with today saw this coming.

Even if the final turnout breakdown shows either Republicans or Democrats retaking the lead in returns, the surge of unaffiliated voters in a midterm election is a startling development that will have repercussions for both parties.

Voters didn’t make a move on education, transportation or drilling setbacks.

Voters said yes to Democrats and no to nearly every ballot question, including statewide tax increases for schools and transportation projects and new restrictions on oil and gas.

These issues aren’t going anywhere. And now, the Democrats are going to have to figure this all out. The big question is how.

Polis has made big promises on education funding, especially early childhood education. But that’s not going to pay teachers more. He said he would put together a bipartisan coalition to find new money for roads, but he hasn’t said how his effort would be any different from Proposition 110, which was a bipartisan effort that lost by nearly 20 percentage points.

And as for oil and gas, conventional wisdom says there will be new regulations. The question is how stringent.

Becker told me last night: “I want put the oil and gas wars to bed. I think we’re going to find solutions that will make communities feel safer in their homes without putting oil and gas out of business.”

Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Sen. Cory Gardner (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Democrats to Sen. Cory Gardner: You should be worried.

That’s what several insiders told and texted me last night. Gardner, Colorado’s junior Republican senator, is up for re-election in two years. And the results tonight, which were undeniably influenced by Colorado’s negative opinions about President Donald Trump, are not a good omen for him.

Even before the results were in, however, Republicans warned not to count Gardner out.

Gardner, who helped his party retain — and even grow — the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, “should have no problem having all of the resources necessary to fend off whoever it might be,” said Justin Pendergast, a Republican political consultant. “It’s probably going to be the most expensive Senate race in the nation.”

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter are poised for House leadership roles. And they’re going to use their new subpoena power.

Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the longest-serving member in the state’s delegation, promised a friendly crowd at the Westin on Tuesday night that she and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents Jefferson County, would use their likely new authority as chairs of subcommittees with subpoena power to hold Trump accountable.

DeGette is currently the ranking member on the energy and commerce oversight subcommittee. Perlmutter is the ranking member of the financial services oversight subcommittee.

“We’re going to have a gavel and subpoena authority,” she said to cheers. “And we intend to use it.”


Newly elected governor of Colorado Jared ...

Jared Polis claims historic win over Walker Stapleton to become Colorado’s next governor

Voters on Tuesday handed the reins of Colorado’s government to Jared Polis, a five-term congressman from Boulder whose pledges on an array of issues promised a leftward shift for a state that long had reveled in its middle-ground status. Continue reading

Countdown

58 days until the General Assembly convenes

Your Election Day must reads

  • Proposition 112 failed as voters say no to larger setbacks for oil and gas. Denver Post
  • Jason Crow unseated incumbent Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Denver Post 
  • While you were drinking and/or sleeping, Phil Weiser claimed victory over George Brauchler in a tight race. Denver Post
  • Voters reject $1.6 billion school tax measure. Denver Post
  • Voters hit brakes on two measures to fix roads. Denver Post
  • Taxes for mental health, parks among leading measures. Denver Post
  • Democrats set to retake control of state government. Denver Post
  • Jena Griswold defeated Wayne Williams. Denver Post
  • Democrat Dave Young wins close race for treasurer. Denver Post 
  • Incumbent Scott Tipton defeats challenger in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, covering much of Western Slope and beyond. Denver Post

Campaign Diary

Meanwhile, at Republican headquarters …

By Anna Staver

The mood at the Colorado Republicans’ Election Night party turned somber less than an hour after the polls closed.

“We’re disappointed; we’re not winning these races at the moment. But votes are still being counted,” Colorado GOP spokesman Daniel Cole said as he read the first round of results to the crowd.

But as results rolled in, it became clear Democrats could win all of the statewide races, including the governor’s office.

Walker Stapleton, Brian Watson and Mike Coffman filed onto the stage one after the other to tell partygoers that the results weren’t what they’d been hoping for. One of Stapleton’s daughters held her mother’s hand and cried while her dad conceded the race.

George Brauchler, the Republican candidate for attorney general, told the room he wasn’t giving up. And, in fact, he didn’t concede Tuesday night, despite being behind in the count.

The only time the crowd cheered after that was for races in other states where Republicans had a better night.

In an alternate universe

Let’s go behind the scenes. On Monday, I asked a few political watchers to opine on the outcome on the election — in advance. You can read their responses to how the election actually turned out. But I thought it’d be fun to share what they would have said if there had been a different outcome and Stapleton beat Polis. Both Ian Silverii and Kelly Maher agreed to let me share their quotes on what might have been.

Kelly Maher:“Coloradans are still generally middle-of-the-road moderates. And they said Tuesday that the hard-core progressive agenda is not going to fly here. Jared Polis was selling something that Coloradans just aren’t buying.”

Ian Silverrii: “Despite Donald Trump being president, it looks like the midterm Republican surge in Colorado worked for the Republican Party once again. I’m confused because I thought Colorado was moving in a very progressive direction when it comes to the rights of immigrants and LGBTQ folks and religious and racial minorities. Unfortunately, it looks like the politics of hate and division won the day.”

Vote for Golden’s underaged underwhelming

By John Aguilar
Voters in Golden soundly rejected a measure on Tuesday that would have made the city the first in Colorado to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote for candidates and issues in municipal elections.

Ballot Question 2E went down by a 65 percent to 35 percent margin.

Which begs the question: What might have been the result if Golden’s 16 and 17-year-old cohort had been allowed to vote on Tuesday on whether 16 and 17 year olds could vote? Do you feel yourself folding up into a reverse pretzel as you try to shove your mind down this maddening wormhole of a hypothetical?

Odds and ends from social media

Colorado politicos and pundits took to social media during the last few days of the election to post some rather funny moments.

Here’s one for Laura “Pinky” Reinsch, One Colorado’s political director.

And here’s a photo from state Sen.-elect Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. Her team found this warning on the campaign trail:

I’m going to be real: As a young journalist, Lynn Bartels — who covered politics for the Rocky Mountain News and then The Denver Post — was one of my heroes. And she is several political reporters’ favorite source. She will be missed at the Secretary of State’s Office.

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