Republican congressman Cory Gardner’s victory over Democratic Senator Mark Udall is a far bigger deal than the media is leading on. Remember this: Colorado is not purple or mauve, it’s blue. Not as blue as some states, for sure, but blue nonetheless.
And it didn’t turn blue through the mythological reach of The Colorado Model, the progressive ground game bankrolled by progressive plutocrats, but predominantly through demographics. A stream of cultural and socially left-leaning voters had streamed into the state to enjoy the tremendous economic opportunities and prosperity that low taxation and a minimal regulatory environment provided. That party is over.
Colorado’s been blue for a while now. When I got to the state in 2004, Bill Owens was being talked up as a presidential nominee and Republicans ran everything. By the time I left in 2010, Democrats had taken the governorship, both houses of the legislature, two U.S. House seats, and both Senate seats. Obama won the state easily, twice. This is the first time a Republican has won a Senate seat in Colorado since 2002. This isn’t a state that’s seesawed between parties. Democrats have dominated.
So when Democrats – including the president – argue that these midterms are simply a reflection of a structural problem, Colorado proves them wrong. You can’t have it both ways. Gardner ousted Udall, who fully embraced the entire menu of vicious and banal attacks that had previously worked for Obama and Michael Bennet. In the state where the president gave his dramatic DNC speech in 2008, Udall represented the smallness of today’s Democratic agenda. Udall’s campaign was a carbon copy of Bennet’s.
Candidates matter, of course. Gardner deserves credit for being a bright politician running a tight campaign. Even before the rise of the Tea Party, a vicious civil war crippled the GOP. This was in large part the doing of then-governor Owens, who campaigned with Democrats and Chamber of Commerce to dismantle the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This essentially creates three parties in the state, which led to a slew of appalling candidates and third-party challenges. Gardner is basically a consensus candidate. What he proved was that a qualified and disciplined conservative can win in a blue state. Of all the races in the country, this one that should worry Democrats most.