Colorado, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, has
some claim to be on the leading edge of American politics. It produced
antiwar, pro-environment Democrats like Sen. Gary Hart in the 1970s,
Reaganite Republicans like Sen. Bill Armstrong even before Ronald Reagan won
in 1980, Clintonesque Democrats like Gov. Roy Romer in the 1980s, and
National Review's favorite Republican governor, Bill Owens, in the 1990s.
In this decade, a group of liberal multimillionaires -- Tim
Gill, Rutt Bridges, Jared Polis and Pat Stryker -- developed "the Colorado
model," not only funding candidates, but setting up think tanks, advocacy
groups and public relations operations designed to oust Republicans and
As Fred Barnes pointed out in The Weekly Standard last year,
this Colorado model has been a brilliant success. Democrats captured both
houses of the legislature and a Senate and House seat in 2004, the
governorship in 2006 and a Senate and House seat in 2008. Colorado, which
voted for George W. Bush by 8 points in 2000 and 5 points in 2004, voted for
Barack Obama by 9 points in 2008. It was a fitting conclusion to a campaign
in which Obama accepted his nomination in front of Greek columns in Denver's
But now, Colorado seems to be going in the other direction. Gov.
Bill Ritter, elected by 17 points in 2006 and seeking another term next
year, is trailing former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis in the polls and runs
only even against a little-known Republican state legislator. Michael
Bennet, appointed by Ritter to fill Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Senate
seat, has a negative job rating and runs well under 50 percent against
Barack Obama's job rating in the state has been conspicuously
below his national average -- closer to those of still rock-ribbed
Republican Rocky Mountain states than like the hip states of the Pacific
Campaigning, it turns out, is easier than governing. The
Colorado model folks could target particular legislators, taking one out for
her strident opposition to same-sex marriage, beating another with the
support of horny-handed labor union operatives. Out of office, Ritter could
gush with enthusiasm about alternative energy sources and Obama could
eloquently promise hope and change.
In office, thing have gotten stickier. Ritter enraged union
leaders by vetoing their pet legislation, then risked alienating
suburbanites with an executive order empowering public employee unions.
Limited by Colorado's taxpayer bill of rights, he imposed higher fees on car
registration, but at the same time has had to order big spending cuts.
Obama has been able to sidestep national labor leaders' card
check bill, which would effectively abolish the secret ballot in
unionization and impose federal wages and work rules on employers and
employees. But his vast increases in federal spending and his budgets that
promise to nearly double the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic
product, up to World War II levels, and the various Democratic health care
plans have inspired unease in Colorado as elsewhere.
At least one Colorado Democratic congressman has announced he
won't hold town meetings on health care because people don't really know
what they're talking about. Another, from a liberal Boulder-centered
district, voted against the health care bill in committee because of the
supertax on high earners, which he argued, would stifle economic growth and
Colorado is just one state, with nine electoral votes, and, like
every other state, not typical of the nation. It is the state with the
lowest rate of obesity and quite possibly the highest level of physical
fitness, perhaps because most of its citizens live a mile above sea level.
The oscillations of its politics seem driven more than elsewhere by baby
boomers who flocked there in the 1970s, in the heyday of Hart and Patricia
Schroeder. The poll numbers suggest they found Democrats an attractive
protest vote in the George W. Bush years but find them less palatable now
that they are putting their policies into practice.
These voters may appreciate an openness to same-sex marriage and
give lip service to preserving the environment, but they don't seem to
cotton much to higher taxes and fees, a significantly enlarged government
and greatly strengthened labor unions.
The Colorado model showed how dedicated leftists could produce
victories for Democratic candidates. It doesn't seem to have been as useful
a guide for how those Democrats, once elected, could govern in a way that
produces sustained public approval.