Mandell: Note to Western Slope Democrats — don’t assume Republican losses are your gains
Special to the Daily
Three recent events say a lot about where the 3rd Congressional District is heading.
Republicans embarrass themselves and shed supporters
The first involves Mesa County. It has 20% of the 3rd District’s registered voters and a quarter of its registered Republicans. But since January, for the first time, unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans there according to the Colorado Secretary of State.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Since its takeover by the extremist wing, Republicans continue to throw out bizarre conspiracy theories. The latest, reported by the Grand Junction Sentinel, has state Rep. Matt Soper and a few other local Republicans tweeting that the Republicans’ loss in the recent City Council election there might be due to using Dominion software.
In what was once the “normal world,” people would be expected to offer evidence. These days, evidence does not matter much. Money matters. And the crazier the charge, the more money can be drawn from ideologically committed true believers.
People appear to be tiring of this
Changes in voter registration suggest people are getting fed up. Since the start of the year, registered voters in the 3rd Congressional District have grown by more than 4,500 while registered Republicans fell by more than 2,000.
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But no one is flocking to the Democrats. So far, the district has added only 24 registered Democrats.
The growth is in independents, called “unaffiliated” voters in Colorado. Unaffiliated registrations in the district grew by more than 6,500 in the first three months of 2021, with more than 1,300 coming from Mesa County.
This continues a long-term trend. Ten years ago, unaffiliated voters made up about 25% of registered voters in the district, while Republicans led with 41%. Unaffiliated voters became dominant in 2018 and today are 40% of registered voters. Republicans are 32% and Democrats 26%.
Both parties may say this is not about them, but about 2016 legislation allowing unaffiliated voters to choose which major party primary to vote in. There is some truth in this. But disdain for both major parties has been growing for a long time. In the four years before this legislation passed, unaffiliated voter registration grew almost three times faster than either major party.
Republicans have something to worry about, but Democrats are naive to think they can depend on these unaffiliated voters to turn against Republicans in numbers sufficient to win in 2022.
Western Slope Democrats seem unwilling to learn from history
Democrats lost the last three congressional elections (2016, 2018 and 2020), each time nominating candidates from elite ski-resort towns. Gail Schwartz, (2016) from Snowmass Village, had been a real estate marketer. Diane Mitsch-Bush (2018 and 2020) from Steamboat Springs, was a retired sociology professor. Both had won political office in their local areas before running for Congress.
Each time, Republicans successfully framed the Democrat as a ski-resort elite who cared little about rural people. If not stopped, Republicans warned, they would bring socialism to the district. It didn’t matter that both Schwartz and Mitsch-Bush had records as moderates. And no matter how many times they explained the details of their policies, few minds were changed. In their gut, voters felt they knew these Democrats. They were not “someone like me.”
Now it looks as if Democrats have anointed their next candidate. Kerry Donovan reportedly has already raised $630,000 for her bid. We won’t know until her first report how much came from within the 3rd District.
According to a February 16, 2021, Denver Post article, Donovan lives in Vail, outside the district in which she’s running. She grew up there and worked there and became a successful politician there. Her family bought a ranch in nearby Edwards in the 1980s, which lies within the 3rd Congressional District.
The problem that Donovan will face – whether or not redistricting results in placing Vail in the 3rd – is that relatively few people make voting decisions by carefully comparing and weighing candidates’ policies and attributes. Instead, different voters employ different decision strategies.
For many these days, it’s about whether you feel closer to the red or blue team. For others, they simply like one better than the other, then look for a policy or two to explain why. Others decide based on familiarity or where friends and family lean.
Two things seem clear. More citizens are becoming appalled at what Republicans are doing. Yet Democrats will not likely win the 3rd Congessional District by nominating another candidate from an elite, liberal ski resort town.
Steve Mandell is a former journalist and former director of consumer research for a Fortune 500 company. He lives half the year in Montrose.