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Eagle County turns a deeper blue

Scott N. Miller
Kira Horvath, Vail DailyVoters wait outside the Donovan Pavilion polling place Tuesday afternoon. Eagle County residents have made a clear shift toward the Democratic Party.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” With the votes counted, Eagle County has, over the last two general elections, turned into something of a stronghold for the Democratic Party. That’s a new development.

“It’s a great development,” said New New Wallace, co-chairwoman of the Eagle County Democratic Party. “This never used to happen in Eagle County.”

That changed in 2004, when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry carried the county’s vote. The trend continued this year, with Democrats winning most of the contested races in county, district and state elections.



The “blue wave” that started in 2004 has only gained strength over the past two years. Part of that is due to national politics, Wallace said, and part is due to the “changing face” of Eagle County.

Carole Onderdonk is part of that changing face. She moved to Eagle County after the 2004 election, and quickly got involved with the local Democrats.



In the not-too-distant past, Eagle County was considered a Republican stronghold, a place where even Democrats who won county or district elections were from the party’s conservative wing.

Now, there are three Democrats on the three-member board of county commissioners, a development that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago.

“I was delighted to find a strong Democratic presence here,” Onderdonk said. “The county is indeed turning blue.”



But waves come and go, so local Democrats are already at work to try to maintain their advantage.

“I’m very enthusiastic about the prospects for the future,” Onderdonk said.

The party faithful will meet next week to plan for future campaigns, she said. And a women’s lunch group, started as a way to keep dedicated Democrats dedicated, is off to a good start.

“We need to stay on the pulse of what people want,” Wallace said. “We have to be very careful. We can’t start riding up on our high horses.”

Of course, local Republicans are also working to get back at least some of the advantage they once held.

The day after the election, Eagle County Republican Party Chairman Randy Milhoan was already thinking about the future. But, he said, the local party didn’t do all that badly on Election Day.

The party re-elected Sheriff Joe Hoy in a contested race, and re-elected County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton, County Treasurer Karen Sheaffer and County Surveyor Dan Corcoran, who all ran unopposed. Republicans Ron Wolfe and Rich Carroll were also elected to the Avon Town Council.

In addition, the party successfully opposed two county ballot issues, Referendum 1A, a proposed “child services” tax, and Referendum 1B, a proposed “home rule” charter for the county.

But, Milhoan said, there’s a lot of work ahead for local Republicans.

What kind of work, though, depends on what kinds of Republicans end up calling the shots.

Heather Lemon ran twice, unsuccessfully, for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. She said Tuesday’s Democratic gains around the country were, in part, a repudiation of hard-line Republican ideology.

“I think Eagle County is moderate,” Lemon said. “People are moderate. They don’t want to be on either extreme.

“I hope the Republicans wake up and puts somebody moderate up for President in 2008.”

But former Eagle County Commissioner Dick Gustafson said Republicans need to be more like, well, Republicans.

“We need to get back to the ‘Contract with America’ from 1994,” Gustafson said. “We need to quit trying to outspend the Democrats. It’s like President Bush said in his press conference (Wednesday): ‘We got a thumping.’ I think we deserved it.”

No matter what the parties do in the future, the fact remains that the county’s voter registration is split roughly equally between registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

“We have a lot of independent thinkers here,” Wallace said. “I think we got them this year for a lot of things.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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