Voters in Colorado’s primary election have had their say, including unaffiliated electors with the first-time opportunity to help decide who made the November ballot for either party.
While it amounted to the largest turnout in a Colorado primary ever, some observers labeled the unaffiliated voter impact as overstated.
Unaffiliated voters comprise the largest percentage of registered voters in the state, at about 38 percent, but the final turnout of those registered as unaffiliated was still small – about 20 percent.
Some election experts were saying, despite the opportunity to have more impact, unaffiliated voters were hard to reach and harder to motivate.
Speculation that unaffiliated electors might choose to vote for the weakest candidates on the opposing party’s ballot to skew results were just wrong. The Denver Post reported more than 600 registered Democrats and Republicans changed to unaffiliated before the May 29 registration deadline. Of those, only 93 Democrats voted in the Republican primary, compared to 193 Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary.
Most noteworthy, perhaps, was the number of unaffiliated voters who submitted ballots for both parties despite a concerted effort by campaign officials to stress they could only vote in one party’s primary ‒ not both ‒ or their ballots would be rejected.
Still, election officials reported some 6,000 unaffiliated voters turned in ballots for both parties, nullifying their votes. Enough to have changed the outcome of some races? Who knows? Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell notes just eight unaffiliated voters in Chaffee County submitted both ballots.
Preliminary numbers show more unaffiliated voters cast ballots for Democrats than Republicans, which is promising, perhaps, for Democrats, but drawing any solid conclusions is risky.
One highlight not to be overlooked is the impact of female candidates – and voters – in this election. Chaffee County joined other communities in seeing a healthy number of women choose to run for office and turn out to vote. Some Democrats see this as heralding an opportunity for significant gains, if not a sea change, in November.
The Fifth Congressional District GOP competition had controversy and intrigue early on but still ended with incumbent Doug Lamborn overcoming yet another intra-party challenge to his nomination. Some observers see Lamborn as a shoo-in for a seventh term, but the motivated campaign for the Democrats to challenge is not to be overlooked.
It brought out two spirited women, nominees Stephany Rose Spaulding and Betty Field (among others), who challenged the business-as-usual attitudes of some electors in El Paso County about GOP dominance.
Spaulding’s vote total (more than 45,000) is a pretty strong showing against 105,000 for the five-candidate Republican field. Indicative, perhaps, of demographic changes in El Paso County and electors’ changing political loyalties (albeit slowly).
In Chaffee County, the local primary results included strong showings by women candidates and gave Democrats some bragging rights in a county where Republicans outnumber them.
Unaffiliated voters in the county broke 60 percent for Democrats and 40 percent for Republicans of the 1,538 who cast ballots. That’s just 26 percent of the more than 5,900 registered unaffiliated voters – better than the 10 percent statewide, but not extraordinary.
Statewide, major races in particular had little in the way of surprise, especially the top of the ticket. Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Jared Polis handily outdistanced their competition.
Analysts say Stapleton will have to move from a solid allegiance to President Trump to the political center; others say Polis will have to fight the “Boulder liberal” label. Their lieutenant governor picks could be important to the race, but the tightest race was for attorney general.
Trends for November? It’s anyone’s guess. The strengths of liberal and conservative campaigns, Trump’s unpredictable behavior and the Mueller investigations could influence the outcome for some races in Colorado.
The bottom line, of course, is voters’ attitudes. Indications of another record Colorado turnout could be significant. In the end, it will be a motivation-driven turnout.