William Oster

(Colorado Newsline) A staple of Colorado folklore is the belief that Californians have migrated to the state and upended normal life. They’re blamed for such developments as rising home prices and progressive political culture, so that the only defense left in residents’ arsenal is to slap a “Native” sticker on the back of their cars.

The argument is used mainly by conservatives to account for Republicans’ shortcomings in recent elections and in lamenting the state’s leftward shift.

“(Democrats) aren’t making Colorado like California, they’re making it worse,” Colorado House Republicans wrote in a tweet last week.

Though Californians have come to Colorado in substantial numbers, some observers highlight other factors in recent GOP electoral struggles.

“When I moved here in (2006) we made our best attempt to work with a lot of Republican groups and organizations,” said David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling firm. “Over time, a lot of communities didn’t want us around because our polls would show that it was a difficult challenge for a Republican candidate to get elected.”

Statewide, Republicans maintained control of the state Legislature throughout the early 1990s in the 2000s, even holding a trifecta between the House, Senate and governor’s office from 2003 to 2004. In presidential elections, the Republican nominee won Colorado’s nine electoral votes consecutively from 1996 until 2004. During this time, Colorado was seen as a Republican stronghold. It wasn’t until the late 2000s, particularly the 2008 presidential election, that Colorado began to be seen as a swing state and Republicans began losing their grip.

Today, Republicans in the 100-seat Legislature have some of the smallest margins they’ve seen in decades, with 12 Republicans in the Senate and just 19 in the state House, where Democrats hold a supermajority.

But this makeup isn’t surprising to some conservatives — and indicates the party’s shortcomings as it veers further to the right.

“We’re seeing the demise of a rational and effective Republican party,” said Flaherty, who ceased gathering polling data for Republican campaigns three years ago. “Many (candidates) don’t value quality public opinion polling data … We’re all done with Republican candidates.”

The notion of a “Californication” of Colorado might seem convincing on the surface. According to the most recent census data recording state-to-state migration from 2009 to 2019, over 200,000 people have moved from California, a progressive stronghold, to Colorado. In that time Colorado has shifted blue, and just last year Californians made up 16.6% of residents relocating to the state, according to polling from moving company moveBuddha.

But digging further over time, residents from another state have migrated to Colorado in similar and sometimes bigger numbers: Texas.

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While over 200,000 Californians have moved to Colorado, residents from the conservative bastion of Texas have moved to the state at a slightly higher rate, with more than 210,000 relocating to Colorado from 2009 to 2019. For the years recorded, Texans moved to the state at a higher rate than Californians in 8 out of the 10 years, when including the margin of error. How migration from either state has influenced politics in Colorado is uncertain.

According to Magellan Strategies, some of the top issues for voters in the midterm were inflation, the economy and crime. With violent crime, including aggravated assault, sexual assault and robbery, up 17% between 2019 and 2021, Republican candidates like Joe O’Dea, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado, appealed to voters with tough-on-crime initiatives. But even with these appeals, Republicans suffered devastating losses in the midterms.

“Instead of looking deep into their own strategies and what’s going wrong, they’re blaming it on the outside,” said Karin Asensio, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party. “They make excuses.”

Kristi Burton Brown, the chairwoman for the Colorado State Republican Party, could not be reached for comment.

Asensio argues that her party has succeeded over the past several elections by appealing not to voters’ fears but rather to where they can realistically see the most change.

“There’s not a voter we don’t talk to,” she said. “When we do talk to Republicans — and there are deep, big conversations — we listen to what their concerns are. We need to work together as a state because we cannot just be siloed into the party lines.”

The Colorado GOP this weekend chose a new chairperson, former state Rep. Dave Williams, a Trumpist election denier. The selection dashed hopes among some Republicans in the state that the party would choose a leader that could help it appeal to a broad swath of voters beyond its hard-right base.

“The more (Republicans) appeal to their base, the more they repel the unaffiliated voter in Colorado,” said Flaherty. “They are not problem solvers.”

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