Democrats roll to victories in an increasingly blue Jeffco

Voter rolls show definite shift over last decade

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 11/9/20

It’s been over 100 years since there was a Jefferson County Board of Commissioners without a Republican commissioner. But that will be the case come January after Democrats won the two seats up for …

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Democrats roll to victories in an increasingly blue Jeffco

Voter rolls show definite shift over last decade

Posted

It’s been over 100 years since there was a Jefferson County Board of Commissioners without a Republican commissioner. But that will be the case come January after Democrats won the two seats up for election in 2020 to take over the entire board for the first time since the late 1880s.

It’s a result that might have seemed surprising — shocking even — as recently as 2017 when Republicans still held two of the three seats.

But it was par for the course in 2020 as Jeffco voters also preferred the Democratic candidates running for president and Colorado’s US Senate seat by double digit margins, flipped the First Judicial District Attorney’s office blue and chose to send Democrats to the state house in six of the seven districts with more than 250 voters in Jefferson County.

A dramatic shift

It’s a shift towards the Democrats that few can appreciate the magnitude of more than incumbent Republican commissioner Libby Szabo, who won election to her District 1 commissioner seat by around 6%. This year, she lost her reelection by 8.3%, a margin she notes was closely mirrored by those in several of the other countywide races, including that for DA.

“When I came to be the county commissioner there was one elected Democrat in the county government, Commissioner Casey Tighe,” Szabo said. “When I leave in January there will be one elected Republican and that will be Sheriff Jeff Shrader. So, things have changed a lot.”

But what’s behind the once reliably red Jefferson County’s sudden move into the blue column?

Scott Merrifield, the first vice chair of the Jeffco Democratic Party, said Jeffco seems emblematic of a broader shift toward the Democratic party over the last four years (the Democrats also saw several big wins in 2018) that can be seen in suburban communities throughout the nation.

It’s a shift that Merrifield said the Jeffco Dems were well-positioned to build upon through a coordinated effort to both get out the vote among Democrats and sell their candidates to unaffiliated voters and even Republicans, which allowed the democrats to win the turnout battle in a high-turnout election.

“The party targeted 90,000 of the registered democrats in Jeffco to remind them to get out to vote,” said Merrifield. “And of the 90,000 that the party worked on 96% of them turned out to vote. That’s insane.”

Denise Mund, the chair of the Jeffco Republicans, said her party has not yet had the time to fully delve into the election data to draw conclusions about the results but would thoroughly do so. However, she said she has also seen a change in the past few years.

“Obviously, I would prefer that, you know, the county represented conservative values the way that it did in the past,” she said. “Personally, I don’t like to see the changes that have happened: our taxes will continue to go up and we’re having extreme policies that are adopted by our elected officials and I honestly don’t think it truly represents the heart of the citizens of Jefferson County.”

Registered Dems more numerous

The county’s newfound tilt toward the Democrats is reflected in party identification data as registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by 18,000 voters as of Nov. 1. That is in itself a significant change from 2015, when Republicans outnumbered Democrats by around 7,000 votes (with the numbered of registered Republicans actually decreasing since). However, then, as now, the biggest category of voters was actually independents, which currently outnumber the Democrats by 60,000 voters.

While the results for the Republicans weren’t good, the data suggests they could have been even worse as registered Democrats actually outnumber Republicans by about 17%, which is higher than the 10% or so margin seen in several of this year’s election results.

While complete voting data is not yet available, Jeffco Deputy Clerk Val Abramovich said, up until the day before the election, turnout for both Democrats and Republicans was “about the same.”

Joni Inman, who lost the race for the District 2 commissioner seat, said one trend she feels having an impact on results is a seeming decline in split ticket voting.

“The curious part about it is that the margins were almost the same across all of the races,” she said. “That tells me there was pretty straight line voting.”

However, District 3 commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper, who will chair the now all-Democrat board, said she the results reaffirm her belief that voters are more concerned with candidates than parties when it comes to making choices at the county level.

“Jeffco voters respond to leaders who listen, find common ground and work together to solve problems,” Dahlkemper said in an email. “While we see partisan politics and divisiveness at the national level, Jeffco voters want local leaders who put aside partisan politics and get results. There’s no room for one issue candidates — no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.”

During a speech at her election party on Nov. 3, Laurel Imer, the Republican candidate for the House District 24 seat, criticized the state Republican Party’s approach to recent elections and her belief that it had not supported campaigns in the district because it considered it unwinnable.

Although she lost by 30 percent, she said her campaign had out-raised every other in District 24 history by raising more than $24,000 in individual donations and held it up as model for Republicans to make future inroads.

“The numbers in the district tell us that (we didn’t stand a chance) because we are the bottom of the rung below independents and Democrats, so we knew it was unwinnable,” she said to her supporters. “But did any of you ever think that I was running a race that was unwinnable? That’s the first step. If you are going to be a winner you’ve got to be a winner from day one until the end.”

Parties expect county to be competitive in future

Merrifield, meanwhile, said that while county has gone strongly Democrat the past few years, no one should assume it will reliably be that way going forward.

“We’re not Denver, we’re not Boulder, politically we are a very diverse county,” he said. “I think what we have done over the last four years especially but going even before that is shown more and more that Democrat representatives bring home to the county what people want and I think what we have to do is to keep showing them that that’s who we are and that’s who they need to vote for. But we cannot take that for granted and say now we’re a blue county and we can just sit back because we know that the Democrats are gonna win. Absolutely not.”

The Republicans, for their part, aren’t giving up anytime soon either, Mund said.

“The people that I know that are volunteers for the party, have strong convictions and are not guarded,” Mund said. “And I don’t see them in any way giving up, instead I see that we will be digging into the data and looking at ways that we can improve across the board. Nothing will be left unscrutinized and we will make sure that we come back better and stronger.”

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