New West: Colorado reflects the region’s shift away from the Republican Party.

Kevin Priola became a Republican before he could vote.

Inspired by Ronald Reagan, he registered with the Republican Party at the age of 17. He joined the college Republicans at the University of Colorado at Boulder – a true act of faith in this liberal stronghold – and was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2008, where he has ever served. With.

But Priola gradually drifted away from the Republican Party, seeing it as authoritarian rather than conservative, and became a Democrat last August.

“I couldn’t digest it,” Priola said of his old party, “and associate myself with this style and type of politics.”

He is hardly alone.

For most of its history, the West has been Republican territory. Today, it is a bastion of democratic support, a change that has reshaped presidential politics across the country. Mark Z. Barabak explores the forces that have changed the political map in a series of columns called “The New West”.

IN last two decades, Republican ranks in Colorado have shrunk dramatically, to just a quarter of registered voters, as the once reliably red state has become a distinct shade of blue.

The transformation is part of a larger political shift in the West: along the Pacific coast, through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, into the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and New Mexico. Once a Republican stronghold, the region has become a Democratic stronghold. This, in turn, changed the president’s policy throughout the country.

With much of the West — California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington — seemingly locked down, Democrats can focus more on the age-old battlefields of the Midwest and head to once-solidly Republican states like Georgia.

Over the next few months, I will visit several of these western states to study the forces that have changed the political map.

The change didn’t happen just like the snow that covers the Rocky Mountains in winter, or the runoff that fills the icy rivers of Colorado in the spring. It took money, strategy, demographic change, and last but not least, a hard Republican turn to the right.

The New West series begins in Colorado, as no state in the region has so drastically changed its party colors in the last two decades. “From a western swing state, it has gone from being a Democratic stronghold,” said pollster Floyd Ciruli, who has studied public opinion in Colorado for more than 40 years.

In 2004 The Democrats essentially gave in and wrote off the seat; since then, they have won Colorado in every presidential election. In 2020, Joe Biden defeated President Trump by 13 points, the biggest Democratic victory here in more than half a century.


Patrick Winkler helped change the political face of Colorado.

Over the past 20 years, the state has been home to more than 1.3 million residents, most of whom, like Winkler, settled in Denver or in the suburbs that stretch endlessly along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Winkler moved three years ago from California, in part because the 29-year-old real estate agent wanted to own the house and knew his money would go further to Colorado.

The political views he imported are typical of Winkler’s youthful, center-left cohort. He voted for Biden in 2020 and a Democratic governor. Jared Polis in November last year, largely because of his disdain for the Republican Party – too limited, according to Winkler – and a particular dislike of Donald Trump.

“It wasn’t so much a personal opinion of the candidates,” said Winkler, who ended up buying a three-story park-view townhouse near downtown Denver. “It was about the general worldview of the parties and what they stand for.”

The influx of young arrivals—many, like Winkler, from California—is not new. Colorado has long been a magnet for twenties and thirties, drawn to the state’s mouth-watering scenery, active lifestyle, and, more recently, its thriving technology and service industries.

What has changed is those who have found a home in the Democratic Party: they are younger, richer, better educated and more liberal on issues like abortion and gay rights.

In short, Democrats now agree much more with Colorado, one of the most educated and socially liberal states in the country, as the Republican base has grown older, less educated, more evangelical, and more Trumpist.

When Laurie Weigel moved to Denver in 1997, she recalled that “The Broncos always won, and the Republican Party always won.”

“Now,” lamented the GOP strategist, “we have a losing football team and, across the state, a losing Republican brand.”


Polis sits in his spacious office at the State Capitol, his 13-year-old terrier mix Gia curled up in a chair next to him. His dress – a gray suit and purple polo shirt with matching Nike sneakers – is a mixture of tech brother and standard government official.

At 47, Polis has been a multimillionaire for over two decades. He made his fortune in the turbulent days of the commercial internet by founding an online flower delivery service among other thriving businesses.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis

Mask-wielding Denver Broncos, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis shows off his light regulatory touch in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Associated Press)

Before running for elected office, Polis played a key role in Colorado’s transformation as one of the “Gang of Four,” a quartet of wealthy donors who, beginning in the early 2000s, spent millions building a political support system, recruiting, and funding Democratic candidates.

The effort was vital to staffing the party bench and weakening the Republican Party’s grip on the statehouse.

Polis, however, downplays Colorado’s transition from red to blue. After 10 years in Congress and entering a second term as governor, after being re-elected by a landslide in November, the Democrat would rather talk about politics than his role as a supporter of Mr. Trump. Money bags.

The Colorado shift, he said, “has nothing to do with funding.” And this is largely true, although cash injections, of course, did not interfere.

More important is the branding of the Democrats in Colorado as the center party.

“Coloradans tend to be very moderate. Anyone who puts personal ideology ahead of decisions will run into the Colorado electorate.”

— Colorado Democratic Strategist Craig Hughes

The state is “not a playground for the fringe left,” said Chris Hughes, a former chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party. “This is not a state like Maryland where whoever is a Democrat will win.”

A policy that boasts of tax cuts and with a light hand during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the latest in a string of Democratic officials in the state who have spoken out against the national party’s shift to the left.

There was a US Senator in a cowboy hat. Ken Salazar, who made bipartisanship a calling card in Washington. Polis was preceded by relatively centrist governors. Bill Ritter, former prosecutor, and John Hickenlooper former oil company geologist.

Meanwhile, Republicans have nominated candidates from the right-wing tea party movement and fire-breathers such as the anti-immigration crusader. Tom Tancredo

“Coloradans tend to be very moderate,” said Democratic strategist Craig Hughes. “Anyone who puts personal ideology ahead of decisions will run into the Colorado electorate.”

For Polis, who despises hardliners in both parties, ideology is a four-letter word. He is quick to point out that Democratic Party registration has fallen in Colorado along with Republican Party registration.

(Although not by much. Unaffiliated voters are in the majority at 45%, followed by Democrats at 28% and Republicans at 25%; for decades the parties were roughly level, about a third of the electorate each.)

Polis said Colorado Republicans fared worse than Democrats because GOP candidates focused too much on culture war issues like abortion and gay rights and dived down rabbit holes like Trump. false claims about stolen elections. (Earlier this month, the Colorado Republican Party elected an election denier as its chairman.)

“Any candidate who wants to win in Colorado needs to speak up and have solutions to the issues that matter most to everyday Colorado residents,” Polis said, noting these issues: education, affordable housing, traffic, traffic.

“They’re going to focus on improving the quality of life,” Polis said of the state’s voters “what you’ve done for me lately.” “Not those distractions left or right.”


Kasi Smigelsky works in Denver tech sales and, like most Colorados, is not affiliated with any political party.

The 33-year-old considers herself a financial conservative and is not a Biden fan – too much of a holdover, she says 80 year old president. But Smigelsky has an even harsher view of the Republican Party, which she believes is still overly indebted to Trump.

“They have become a hate party,” she said, “and a disenfranchisement party.”

While Smigelsky could imagine herself voting a moderate Republican for president, if someone somehow wins that nomination in 2024, she would never cast her vote for Trump, one of the early Republican candidates.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Absolutely never.”

Republicans in Colorado were in decline long before Trump made his way into the White House. The deceit of the former president and the chaos he created has accelerated the free fall.

Dick Wadhams, a fourth-generation Colorado and longtime Republican campaign consultant, said it’s hard for Republicans these days to even get an impartial hearing from voters, regardless of a candidate’s personality and beliefs.

He imagines typical Colorado voters saying to themselves, “We’re not going to give these positions to the Republican Party, even if these people look solid, because the party as a whole is crazy.”

Pam Anderson, Secretary of State candidate from Colorado.

Pam Anderson, Secretary of State candidate from Colorado.

(Mark Z. Barabak/Los Angeles Times)

Pam Anderson can tell you this firsthand.

Former election commissioner in suburban Jefferson County Anderson describes herself as socially moderate, if not liberal, and has no interest in what she calls political bombers.

Anderson was featured on the cover of Time magazine last October as one of the “defenders” fighting to save democracy after she defeated a Trump supporter and election denier to win the GOP nomination for secretary of state controlling voting in Colorado.

“I was a staunch opponent of everything Trump said about the election,” Anderson said during the morning buzz at a coffee shop in Denver. “All.”

However, according to her, the opponents spent “millions of dollars on advertising, saying that I’m too MAGA for Colorado.” She leaned back, as if still staggering. “I couldn’t raise enough money to fight it.”

Anderson shrugged. She threw up her hands.

She lost by double digits, leaving in a torrent that gave Democrats all four offices across the state and highlighted the sea change that reshaped Colorado and drastically reshaped the West.