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Aspen awaits presidential results

Carolyn Sackariason and Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

The chairpersons of both the Republican and Democratic parties in Pitkin County were sitting on the edge of their seats on Tuesday night as they waited for the results in what has become a tight presidential race.

As of 11:30 p.m., there was no clear winner. States such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona hadn’t fully counted their ballots and results aren’t expected until later this week.

Biden made a public appearance at 10:45 p.m. Mountain Standard Time saying that he was confident in winning all of those states.

“It ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted,” he said. “Keep the faith, we’re going to win this.”

In Pitkin County, where there are 13,774 active registered voters, 8,906 people cast their votes for Biden, and 2,739 for Trump. That was with 86.8% of votes counted at 12:09 a.m.

Democratic Party Chair Howie Wallach, along with his wife, Betty, said Tuesday night that they were pleased with the local turnout.

“I’m over the moon with the Pitkin County Dems,” Howie Wallach said. “My secret objective was to get to 80%, so we are pleased with what we could do within Pitkin County and we are pleased with the repudiation of Trumpism in Pitkin County.”

Republican Party Chair Tom Baker said Tuesday night he hopes the race will be called Wednesday but accepted that it could be longer.

He noted that one lesson from Tuesday’s results is how far off the polls and the commentators have been, with some predicting Biden to be ahead in double digits, which did not play out on Election Night.

“It’s extraordinarily close,” he said.

Baker also said he thought over 20% of voters in Pitkin County supporting Trump was about as good as expected in such a liberal county seat as Aspen.

Both chairs also recognized how well Colorado has handled its mail-in election system.

“It’s fascinating watching how Colorado has figured out how to do its elections,” Howie Wallach said.

Betty Wallach had been in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. serving as an election judge, while Howie did last-minute stumping by walking precincts Tuesday.

They both said they’ve been so stressed out leading up to the election, and were approaching it with no arrogance, cheerfulness or confidence.

They said they’ve been working around the clock in recent days pumping up the Democratic ticket.

The results in Pitkin County are not all that surprising given that 43.5% of the electorate are Democrats, with roughly the same amount registered as unaffiliated, and Republicans hovering around 12.5%.

Baker, who was named chair of the Pitkin County GOP in July, said it’s been a learning experience for him.

Local Republicans held roadside rallies for Trump in the weeks leading up to the election, and for the most part were met with a wave or smile from passersby.

But there were others who showed aggression.

“I’ve been really shocked with the venomous (actions) toward our president,” he said. “I found it disappointing.”

Baker spent this past weekend going to door-to-door in the Basalt area of Pitkin County, and what he found was that those who he interacted with had already made up their minds.

So as a first-time party chair in Pitkin County, he appealed to his base.

“The key thing is to get your committed voters to the polls,” he said.

What was surprising and telling for Betty Wallach was the amount of people who volunteered to be poll watchers. The Democrats had 24 and only needed 18, she said.

“I’ve never had young people or any man,” she said of her electoral experience here, adding that this year several volunteers were men and several were young women.

“That just shows the level of anger, fear and motivation,” Betty Wallach said.

Baker said the Pitkin County Republicans had just one poll watcher, adding that “we didn’t want to appear intimidating.”

He and the Wallachs were monitoring the results coming in throughout the night at home watching TV coverage and online.

The historic nail-biter played out on an unusually quiet Election Night in Aspen, without the downtown watch parties and gatherings of local politicos at Main Street bars that have been a local tradition since the dawn of modern Aspen.

With voters, candidates and activists observing public health restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Aspenites were largely at home on Election Night 2020.

There were a handful of tables full of diners watching the big screens at Mi Chola, and a round of applause broke out when it was announced that former Gov. John Hickenlooper won the Colorado Senate race over Cory Gardner.

A group of three locals, one who voted blue and two who voted red, sat together at a table in the bar and watched the tight race between presidential candidates.

“There is no perfect candidate,” said the Biden supporter, who asked to remain anonymous. “I mean, what’s the sentiment? The sentiment is that politicians suck.”

Historically, local candidates and campaign boosters have gathered at the J-Bar or Mi Chola — formerly the Cantina — because of their proximity to the County Clerk’s Office. Campaign hands and candidates would run between the bars and the Clerk’s Office to gather the latest vote tallies and then share them with the barroom crowds.

“That was always the place to be, the closest to the Clerk’s Office,” recalled Mick Ireland, former Aspen mayor and Pitkin County commissioner. “And in the old days everybody would go to the Jerome to celebrate.”

Given Aspenites’ affinity for political activism and for a good party, Election Night has historically been a festive affair. Ireland recalled victorious local candidates being carried out of the J-Bar onto Main Street on supporters’ shoulders during the 1980s, when he was a political reporter at The Aspen Times.

When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the young crowd at Belly Up Aspen was a shoulder-to-shoulder throng watching the results on the music club’s theater-sized screen and toasting in a rock concert atmosphere.

In the last three presidential elections, Belly Up has been the biggest gathering in town with the results coming in on the big screen, and anxious voters indulging in food and drink specials. The club remained closed Tuesday night, as it has been since March due to COVID-19.

This year, Ireland spent Election Night, which also was his birthday, at home with multiple laptops open and the television on, monitoring national, state and local results.

Rachel Richards — currently on Aspen City Council, formerly a county commissioner and mayor — likewise spent the evening at home watching results with her husband.

She recalled how Election Nights past, with political opponents often just on the other side of the bar, could be spirited fun or bitter competition depending on the year.

“Normally it depends on how many election committees there are and how friendly they are with each other,” she recalled.

In recent election cycles, as the county has begun updating numbers online, the Election Night communal experience has strayed further from the Clerk’s Office. In 2016, for example, the Pitkin County Democrats’ official election night gathering was at Hickory House for what turned into a tearful evening as President Donald Trump mounted his upset of Hillary Clinton.

For first-time candidate Chris Council, running unsuccessfully for a county commissioner seat during the pandemic in 2020 meant running without the typical experience of shaking voters’ hands and working crowds.

His face-to-face interactions were masked and at a 6-foot distance, personal connections with supporters were forged largely over the phone. Likewise, his Election Night played out quietly at home and without the noise and crowds of a typical downtown Election Night party.

“Maybe it’s anticlimactic but running has been fun and it’s been a lesson in civics,” he said Monday. “Every day has been a roller coaster of low to high.”

atravers@aspentimes.com csackariason@aspentimes.com


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