JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
On paper, La Plata County voters are registered as about one-third Republicans, one-third Democrats and one-third unaffiliated and other parties. But on Nov. 6, the county went Democratic all the way.
Five months after stinging defeats, local and state Republicans are rethinking their campaign strategies. New priorities include reaching out to unaffiliated voters, listening to women and minorities, and having a year-round ground presence.
“A lot of candidates barely lost,” said Brad Blake, chairman of the La Plata County Republican Central Committee. “I personally feel it was due to the marijuana issue on the ballot. It brought a lot of Democrats and independent voters out.”
J. Paul Brown, who lost a bid to retain his 59th District Colorado House seat to Mike McLachlan by 917 votes out of 42,300 cast, also attributes part of the loss to having the legalization of marijuana on the ballot.
“The Democrats did a good job registering young people who wanted to vote on that,” he said. “And Mike didn’t have a record then. He does now, and we’re going to point that out.”
The loss was narrow enough, Brown’s planning to run again in 2014, and he doesn’t see a need to compromise his principles.
“I just need to knock on more doors,” he said. “Folks are going to see that things aren’t getting any better, and that the government can’t be everything to everybody.”
Both Blake and state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, agreed that gaffes and statements in Republican races around the country may have trickled down to local races, where Republicans lost both county commissioner races as well in close races.
“I liked (Mitt) Romney, but he had some serious missteps in how he said things,” Roberts said. “They made him appear very out of touch, and a lot of people locally who are really struggling thought he was a rich fat cat, that we’re all rich fat cats, and that’s obviously not the case with me or many others.”
Roberts also thought marketing methods played a big part.
“Who creates the spin wins,” she said. “A lot of good candidates never got to show people who they are. When people are recording every word you say, you’re going to say something that comes back to haunt you.”
2014 election cycle begins
Republicans at the national level are talking about how to attract Hispanic and female voters, reach out to other minorities and deliver their message. But what are local Republicans doing to sway those all-important unaffiliated voters to the “R” side of the ballot?
“I think top on the list is that we need to listen,” Roberts said. “People are feeling so frustrated by what’s happening. And there’s nothing like repeated loss to force people to recalibrate what isn’t appealing.”
Blake said he agreed with Roberts.
“Everything’s so hyperpartisan that we don’t really listen to each other,” he said. “I noticed that article on Dick White, the new mayor, and how green he is. I drive a Prius, I have solar panels, I even have a wind generator. But Republicans aren’t seen as conserving, even though we are conservatives.”
Roberts said she does feel that the Republican National Committee is starting to listen.
“Reince Priebus, the national chair, came to Denver a few weeks ago to seriously get input about how to reach women and minorities,” she said. “Many people were plain-spoken, and he didn’t get defensive, he really listened. I said that we need to respect the fact that they may be coming at life from a different perspective and be open to why they haven’t chosen the Republican Party.”
Colorado Republicans also learned the importance of being organized and on the ground year-round from the Obama campaign.
“We can no longer wait until we have a nominee for a candidate and dial up the effort in the final three or four months before the election,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. “We’re establishing full-time regional field offices for year-round voter registration, neighborhood canvassing, town hall meetings, outreach and coalition development. It’s a pretty ambitious new approach to coordinate opportunities in a swing state like Colorado. Our regional field staff will be there to help support our current elected Republican officials, local party leaders and prospective candidates.”
Call said the party is hoping to have one of those regional offices in Southwest Colorado.
“It will depend on the willingness of people to invest resources and time,” he said, “But the southwest portion of the state is of critical importance to support Sen. Ellen Roberts in 2014 and J. Paul Brown as he tries to reclaim his seat. Those are important races.”
Republican County Commissioner Bobby Lieb has not decided what he’ll do in 2014, but he does know running for office still has fundamentals.
“It still depends on the type of race, the quality of the candidate, your ability to present yourself in public and your understanding of the issues,” he said. “But the stakes seem higher than ever. The amount of money you have to raise is mind-boggling, and the effort that goes into campaigns amazes me.”
The key to winning, as it has been for decades in Colorado, will be swaying independents to vote Republican.
“Both parties are guilty of sending information and materials to the people who agree with them instead of folks they need to persuade,” Blake said. “We need to find the websites where independents go and concentrate on our message of smaller, more effective government.”