home guest columnist archives about us contact us
[archives] [home]

Colorado Election 2002
reprinted from The Hotline: National Journal's Daily Briefing on Politics, March 27, 2003

The 2002 mid-term elections were very good to Colorado Republicans. They held Wayne Allard’s vulnerable U.S. Senate seat, won a new congressional district, re-elected Bill Owens, a popular governor with national aspirations, and won back control of the State Senate—re-establishing 24 years of legislative hegemony that had been briefly broken in the 2000 election.

The U.S. Senate race was especially high profile because it appeared close during the final six weeks and it was part of the national battle for party control of the U.S. Senate. Somewhat surprising, Wayne Allard ultimately won re-election with the same 5 percent margin of victory he received in his initial 1996 election. The race was a rematch between the low-profile Allard and his former nemesis Democrat Tom Strickland. The campaign took on a déjà vu quality with its flood of negative advertising, and Allard labeling Strickland a “lawyer/lobbyist”—an invective used effectively in the 1996 campaign. Strickland tried to label Allard a cold-hearted, ultra-conservative dedicated to privatizing social security and polluting the environment. But voters saw Allard as a nice guy, and swing voters didn’t buy the negative advertising. Democrats also were hurt by the failure of a national playbook to counter the strong Bush tide.

Despite Republican success, Colorado is not a safe Republican state. Democrats have prevailed with the likes of governors Dick Lamm and Roy Romer and senators Gary Hart and Tim Wirth. But the Rowe/Bush strategy of using the president, national security, copious funding and a statewide, intense Republican get-out-the-vote effort was simply too much for Democrats who lacked a national spokesperson and effective message. Allard turned out the usual base of Republicans (Republican registration exceeds Democrats by more than 150,000 voters statewide), but he also scored super-majorities in counties like Douglas (among the fastest growing in the U.S.) and El Paso, home of NORAD and Focus on the Family.

The new court-created 7th Congressional District was a political science dream. The seat was almost perfectly balanced between the parties and produced one of the closest and hardest-fought contests in the country. The race ended in a dead heat; Republican Bob Beauprez was the eventual winner with 386 votes on election day and 121 votes after recounts. Beauprez benefited from the Bush juggernaut and a slight money advantage.

Colorado ballot initiatives tend to be outlets for populist anger or activism. In recent years the state has supported term limits, tax limits and a prohibition on gay rights. In 2002 it was the scene of a major upset for the anti-bilingual movement with national implications.

The most significant factor was a $1 million contribution to the opposition that funded high-profile advertising. In addition, the initiative was excessively punitive to teachers and administration, and provided opponents a useful hook for criticism. Finally, the Republican establishment was careful to avoid polarizing Hispanic voters in close races, thus either avoided the issue or actively opposed it.

[top] [archives] [home] [send this page to a friend]