As nation reddens, Pitkin County still has the blues
November 6, 2014
While much of the U.S. turned a shade redder on Election Day, Pitkin County's liberal stripes certainly were on display.
From the U.S. Senate election down to the Pitkin County race for District 1 commissioner, Aspen-area voters leaned left in casting their ballots.
In some of those contests, Pitkin County was on the losing end.
Voters casts their ballots in favor of Democrats Sen. Mark Udall (69.8 percent), U.S. Congress challenger Abel Tapia (60.5 percent), secretary of state candidate Joe Neguse (64.6 percent), state treasurer candidate Betsy Markey (63.8 percent) and Don Quick (63.6 percent) for attorney general. Those five lost their election bids.
Pitkin County also was out of step with Colorado on Proposition 105, the ballot measure requiring labeling of genetically modified food products. With 94 percent of the state tallies in, 66.3 percent of Colorado voters rejected the measure; in Pitkin County, 62.5 percent of the electorate favored the labeling.
Yet Pitkin County voters were in line with the rest of the state in the gubernatorial race, picking incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper (71.8 percent) as well as Kerry Donovan (66.6 percent) for District 5 of the state Senate and Millie Hamner (67.5 percent) for District 61 in the state House. They also favored Democrat Patti Clapper, who unseated incumbent Rob Ittner, who did not run on a party ticket but is a registered Republican. Ittner was the first incumbent commissioner to be unseated since Michael Owsley ousted Shellie Roy in the 2004 election.
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The county also mirrored the state on Amendment 68, which would have allowed casino-style gambling at horse tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. In Pitkin County, 63 percent voted against the measure; statewide, 71 percent opposed it.
Pitkin County's strong liberal base, noted former Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, a student of local and state politics, is nothing new. But getting Democrats out to vote — unofficial tallies show 7,452 of Pitkin County's 15,461 registered voters cast ballots in the election — was key, he said.
"We worked pretty hard to get people out to vote," he said. "That's the big difference. We make lists; we call people; we visit their doors; we do direct mail. We do everything we can to encourage everybody to vote."
Ireland said that he was encouraged by the voter turnout during the midterm election, especially because it was a contest without former Snowmass resident Gail Schwartz, who relinquishes her state Senate seat in January because of term limits. In the Democrat's last run for Senate, in 2010, Pitkin County saw a turnout of 73 percent among its active voters.
"We didn't have that engine pulling people out to vote," Ireland noted of Schwartz's absence.
Frieda Wallison, president of the Pitkin County Republican Party, said Pitkin County figures from Tuesday's election posed little surprise. But she said the county's GOP, which set up its election headquarters on East Hyman Avenue, next to The Aspen Times offices, is more focused on getting out votes than moving the needle.
"My general outlook is that the more votes we can contribute, whether it's in our district or statewide, the better," she said. "The fact is, Pitkin County is a democratic county, and we just want to do our bit to contribute to the overall results."
Wallison certainly was pleased with Tuesday's outcome, a midterm rout by the GOP. Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate and strengthened their grip on the House of Representatives. Much of the GOP's dominance was due to the nation's souring mood toward President Obama, his implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the recent scares over ISIS and Ebola.
"Even though you may or may not think those are significant, I think they contribute to the aura of malaise, uncertainty and security," she said. "I don't mean to sound partisan, but it had an effect."
Ireland said the Ebola and ISIS scares might resonate with voters in middle America but not in Pitkin County.
"I think people here philosophically are very intelligent and they're not buying the hype," he said.