The Spot: How party politics is “the high school dance on steroids,” and targeting the Latina vote

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Weeks ago, a Democratic Party staffer contacted me to say that some Colorado Republicans would be speaking out against Donald Trump. I decided I’d better wait to see which Republicans were in that group. It turned out the list comprised only former elected Republican officials, and none who’d served in high office.

So I called up a few ex-officials and officials who aren’t up for reelection to ask why, in a state where Trump is deeply unpopular, even swing-district, moderate Republicans have decided it’s in their best interest to either endorse the president or just keep quiet. Most told me they personally know Republicans who are voting for Biden, but that there are compelling reasons why those people don’t say so publicly.

Here’s the calculation, says outgoing GOP state Sen. Jack Tate: “Do you demoralize your base by not supporting the top of your ticket, or stick with the base and have the middle attack you mercilessly by saying you’re supporting the bad guy?”

John Brackney, a former Arapahoe County commissioner, is one of the handful of formerly elected Republicans who’ve endorsed Biden. The campaign rolled out the list in August, and to me it was more notable for its lack of big names or current elected officials than it was for the point that the handful was making.

“If you’re in the tribe, there’s no doubt that the peer pressure, the caucuses, the state assembly, the county assemblies — it’s a passionate crowd,” Brackney said.

“When you’re that elected official and you’re trying to mark out your career and your lifestyle and who you want to be, it’s crazy hard to do what Jeff Flake did or what Justin Amash did. Neither one of those are running for office again,” he continued. “The power within both parties is so strong. It’s the high school dance on steroids. It’s so powerful that you can’t buck it, you can’t be a leader when you’re in the party.”

Well, it’s not that GOP officials who dislike Trump can’t say so. Plenty did when he was still a candidate for president. But they won’t.

I spoke with Russell George, the Rifle Republican and former Colorado House speaker. He recently endorsed Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in the congressional race against Lauren Boebert. He said “the limitations are our own” — as in, bucking the party is a choice available to anyone at any time.

And as far as I know, none who are currently serving in elected office in Colorado have made that choice.

Speaking of voting: If you haven’t done so yet, or you know someone who hasn’t voted, here’s a last-minute guide to the people and issues on your ballot.

Our team will of course be hard at work on Election Day, so madly refresh Tuesday evening and early Wednesday for latest results, insights and analysis.

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Top Line

After Democrats’ sweep of most state offices two years ago, Colorado Republicans’ best hope for political relevance is to retake control of the state Senate this fall, or at least to keep Democrats’ lead there narrow enough to block their most progressive efforts.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

Getting out the Latina vote

A little more than half of registered Latino voters in the United States are extremely motivated to vote this year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, and groups across the country have been trying to get as many of them to vote as possible.

“It is true that both campaigns have done a lot of work to move Latino voters with their digital ads and their television ads,” said Cecilia Marquez, a history professor at Duke University, on a call about voter turnout. “I’ve been sort of shocked by the diversity of Spanish-language ads, including different accents depending on what part of the country you’re in.”

In Colorado, Katherine Archuleta launched a campaign specifically targeting Latina voters.

“The voices of women, especially through our votes, need to be heard, and (for) the Latina community, it’s especially important,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta, a Latina herself, founded the Latina Initiative in 2002. It took a hiatus in 2011 and returned this year with a different focus: getting Latinas to vote through digital campaigning.

Before she launched the group, Archuleta told then-Attorney General Ken Salazar that she had participated in her last “honk and wave” at an event. Instead, she wanted Latinas to have a seat at the table where they could ensure their voices were heard.

This year, with increasing voter turnout and interest in the presidential election, Archuleta wanted to focus her efforts again on the Latino vote. One in five Coloradans are Latino.

“It’s usually the forgotten population because we tend to be progressive voters and we tend to be swept up in progressive voter turnout strategy,” she said.

To drill down further, she and her co-founder decided to focus on young Latina voters, a group they say is never focused on as a subgroup. Archuleta used her experience from working with the Obama administration to work on the outreach efforts, partnering with a digital programming group and researchers to use data to inform their strategies.

It’s still too early to know exactly how many Latina voters they were able to get to the polls or ballot boxes in Colorado, but based on data and feedback through their campaign, Archuleta said they have been able to touch voters who were never reached before.

“This is about building a representative electorate,” she said.

There’s a lot of conversation among groups about how to get the most votes, Archuleta said, but that often doesn’t take into account individual subgroups whose voices should be heard.

More Colorado political news

  • More than 400,000 Coloradans will receive $375 direct payments, Gov. Jared Polis announced.
  • District attorney elections are setting the stage for criminal justice reform in Colorado.
  • Colorado’s attorney general finds evidence of voter intimidation at Fort Morgan mobile home park.
  • Colorado’s homeowners have some of the lowest tax rates in the country, but businesses say they’re paying the price.

#COSen 2020 • By Justin Wingerter

A closing message from Republicans

In the week since Joe Biden said he intends to “transition away from the oil industry” if elected, Colorado Republicans have tried to make it a wedge issue and central to their closing argument.

“John Hickenlooper wants to ban our oil and gas industry and eliminate more than 200,000 Colorado jobs,” Sen. Cory Gardner’s campaign posted to social media two days later.

Hickenlooper’s plan — and Biden’s — is not to ban fossil fuels but rather to transition America’s energy away from them and over to renewable sources, a process they expect will take decades. One challenge for Republicans, especially in climate-conscious states like Colorado, is to make that sound radical and economically ruinous. In the closing days of the campaign, they’re trying.

“Joe Biden and DMB — two peas in a pod — want to decimate your energy sector. What would YOUR life look like without oil and gas?” tweeted congressional candidate Lauren Boebert on Wednesday, referring to her Democratic opponent, Diane Mitsch Bush.

In the Senate race, this strategy isn’t exactly new. Gardner often accused Hickenlooper of radical environmentalism during the debates, and the Colorado GOP has sent at least seven mailers to my home claiming Hickenlooper wants to ban fracking, alongside photos of unemployment lines, “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs and forlorn men in hard hats.

The difficulty for Republicans, to put it bluntly, is to speak louder than the state of the nation. The top issue for voters, according to the most recent Pew survey, is the economy, followed by health care, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, foreign policy and abortion. Energy is not a top issue this year, with a few geographic exceptions, like Garfield County, which has two closely watched races that could reshape the staunchly pro-oil and gas county commission there.

Democratic candidate Leslie Robinson is an advocate for more regulations on the industry. In September, she said it “would be great” if she “had the power to close the oil and gas industry.” Robinson has since claimed the remark was sarcastic, but it has become a campaign issue in her run against Republican incumbent Mike Samson, an adamant natural gas defender.

And the all-Republican county commission recently voted to spend $1.5 million in taxpayer cash to push back against state regulations on oil and gas. All three challengers — two Democrats and an independent — oppose that decision, another significant wedge issue in their races.

More federal election news

  • Trump administration yanks endangered species protection for wolves nationwide.
  • Gardner voted Monday for Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
  • Far-right conservatives see the future of Colorado’s GOP in Lauren Boebert.
  • All is quiet in what was once a political battleground: the 6th Congressional District.
  • In western Colorado, Democratic campaigns play it safe with COVID-19.

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