How blue is our Vail Valley? |

How blue is our Vail Valley?

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Daily file photoAmanda Mohr, of Edwards, wore a Barack Obama T-shirt to the Eagle County Democratic caucus in February. Local Democrats say young people in the Vail Valley were energized by the candidate.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Over the past several election cycles, Colorado’s Vail Valley has shifted from a Republican stronghold to a battleground county to a county that favors Democrats.

The presidential race was not close, with Barack Obama capturing more than 60 percent of ballots. Democrats also managed to capture the two open County Commission seats, but by much narrower margins.

Carole Onderdonk, co-chair of the Eagle County Democrats, credited voter registration efforts.

“We just registered tons of new Democrats and finally have more Democrats than registered Republicans in Eagle County,” she said. “A lot of them are young people, and they got caught up in the excitement surrounding Obama, and I think it carried down the slate.”

For Hilary Henry, a freshman at Duke University, the 2008 election was the first in which she was able to vote. She mostly volunteered for the Obama campaign in North Carolina, but also campaigned in Eagle County.

“It was a really inspiring year to work on the campaign because Obama had a great message of hope and change,” she said. “Being a young person just starting off, that’s a great idea that we have the power to make our country’s future great.”

Onderdonk said the Eagle County Democrats are now looking for a place to hold an inauguration party on Jan. 20.

The Eagle County Republicans also have plans to meet in upcoming weeks, though the occasion will likely be a little more subdued with a bit of soul-searching, said party chair Randy Milhoan. He said the future of the party in Eagle County would be a topic of discussion.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to talk about. We’re talking to officers individually before then and trying to figure out who wants to stay, what ideas they’ve got and who may be tired of working,” he said. “I hate losing, and most people do, but it happens and there’s nothing you can do after the fact but just find out how you’re going to get better and reorganize.”

In the weeks before the election, Milhoan said Republicans faced a strong headwind, but held out hope that their hard work would pay off.

“I was hoping against hope,” he said. “I thought our local candidates would win and was really shocked when the numbers came in. We had more volunteers than we’ve ever had, which was really encouraging, but with the financial situation and dissatisfaction with President Bush by a large number of people ” we hoped it wouldn’t effect the local election but I think it did.”

Onderdonk agreed that the economy was a deciding factor for many voters.

“I think the economic collapse was the thing that sealed the deal. It was kind of the culmination of bad policies and inattention, even though things were going bad before that.”

While there may have been a slight trickle-down effect from the presidential race to the county level, the local situation is a bit more complex.

Republican candidate Dick Gustafson said he was still reviewing a number of things from the election, and was hesitant to comment until he had more information at hand.

Although Peter Runyon ran as a Democrat for the County Commissioner seat, it almost seems he’d prefer to shed the Democrat label altogether.

“I think it’s too easy to label people and (ignoring partisan labels) would force people to be more thoughtful in their selection based on the issues rather than a sort of preconceived idea as to what someone with a ‘D’ or ‘R’ after their name may or may not believe,” he said. “Obviously everyone didn’t (vote down the party line) or the margin in the commissioner race would have been much greater.”

Even though the commissioner races were decided by relatively close margins, Milhoan said Republicans have some work to do before the next election cycle.

“I don’t know exactly where we’re going to look to find some ideas and solutions. We also have to figure out demographics and look at how things are changing in both western counties and all over the U.S.,” he said, noting that staunchly Republican states like Nebraska, Wyoming and Nevada now have pockets of blue.

“It’s interesting to look at that, and we’re not quite sure what will be made of this whole thing,” he said. “We just know there’s going to be a lot of work over the next couple years.”

Naturally Onderdonk was more optimistic about the prospects for Democrats down the road.

“We’re really excited about the future just because we have a lot more registered Democrats,” she said. “It’s been a good year for Democrats, and we’re really excited about the prospect of an Obama presidency.”

Nathan Rodriguez may be reached at or at 970-748-2955.

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