Why Colorado is a Must-Win for Republicans in 2016

In a topsy-turvy, conventional-wisdom defying presidential election year, one thing remains happily constant: the eventual winner will have to secure 270 Electoral College votes. The fight for those votes will once again come down to a handful of key swing states.

But if Republicans hope to succeed in denying Democrats their third consecutive presidential victory, the Grand Old Party will need to figure out a way to win a few battleground states that have not gone their way recently. One of those states is Colorado, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 after supporting George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) in 1996.

On paper, Colorado has nearly all of the makings of a Republican state. Far removed from the East Coast, there is a streak of ruggedness, self-sufficiency, and independence that runs deep in the Centennial State’s character.

And there is the noticeable smell of defiance in the streets of downtown Denver, ever since the state legalized marijuana in 2012. A libertarian and small government pitch goes over well here. Alternatively, just an hour’s drive from Denver is Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family and James Dobson and a hotbed of social and religious conservatism.

But Colorado is also known for its progressive bent, particularly in places like Boulder that are teeming with academic liberals and young and impressionable youngsters — a place that could easily pack a stadium-size crowd for Bernie Sanders.

This eclectic mix of voters of different backgrounds all in a relatively small area is why Kyle Kohli says he thinks, “Colorado is a microcosm of our country.” Kohli, who is communications director for the Colorado Republican Party, tells Opportunity Lives that the state’s diverse economy includes everything from farming and ranching to technology and high finance. That means office-seekers need to hone their pitches and resist generalities and platitudes, he says.

Senator-elect, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), left, celebrates with his wife Jamie Gardner, right, during the GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, in Denver, Colo., on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014. Gardner defeated Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Udall. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

Then-Rep. Cory Gardner was able to win Colorado’s Senate seat in 2014 by running on a positive message and performing well with non-traditional Republican voting blocs. | Photo: AP

Kohli says Colorado Republicans feel bullish about November in part because of presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings and lack of trustworthiness among the state’s voters. Beyond trust issues, Kohli thinks that some Colorado voters are experiencing buyers’ remorse.

“Obamacare has failed to live up to its promises and many folks in the state are getting sticker shock with the rise in healthcare premiums,” he said. That gives Republicans an opening to run on change.

If Republicans win Colorado, it will likely come down to two metropolitan Denver counties: Jefferson and Arapahoe. Known for their high standards of living and quality of life, these are counties that are the bellwethers within the bellwether state. Republicans have struggled in both population-rich areas in the past few election cycles. But even if Republicans don’t win those counties in November, it is possible to win the state — though the margin of defeat matters.

Paulo Sibaja, a candidate for Arapahoe county commissioner, says Republicans cannot afford to lose Jefferson and Arapahoe County by large margins if they have any chance of carrying Colorado on Election Day. Sibaja points to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s successful campaign in 2014 as a template for Republican victory. Gardner lost Jefferson and Arapahoe, but his campaign was able to keep the losses there close and close the margins with other non-traditional Republican voters, like Hispanics.

paulo sibaja

Paulo Sibaja | Photo: paulosibaja.com

Sibaja, a native of Costa Rica, thinks that Republicans can win places like Arapahoe County with a “positive, future-oriented and solutions focused” message. Channeling the late Jack Kemp, Sibaja tells Opportunity Lives that Republicans must show voters not just how much they know, but also how much they care. This according to the fresh-faced Sibaja is how Republicans are going to win over independents and moderates.

A positive message is a sharp contrast to what’s happening at the national level, where Republicans are wrestling with the possibility of nominating Donald Trump for president. If this happens, Republicans will need to prepare for the possibility of losing voters like Chris Horst of Denver.

Horst, a self-described conservative, tells Opportunity Lives that he will actively campaign against Trump. “He does not represent any of my values and is an affront to the conservative movement and everything it represents,” Horst said.

Horst writes frequently about his faith for various news and commentary outlets and says that as a “father of two young boys, I want to rally behind a candidate that is going to exemplify virtues that I want to see in my children.”

If Republicans want to win the general election, they ought to heed voices like Sibaja’s and Horst’s. They are sending distress signals to the national party to reverse course before it’s too late.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @IzzyOrtega.