SUBURBAN BLUES: Dems welcome bigger wins in metro Aurora suburbs; GOP looks to regroup

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With millions of early ballots cast before Election Day, there were minimal lines during the day Nov. 3, 2020, in Aurora.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Days before supporters of President-elect Joe Biden swarmed Denver streets in celebration, southeast metroplex Democrats had already won incursions into Republican territory — and continued to paint the ‘burbs bluer.

U.S. Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat, easily won reelection by a whopping 17-point margin to continue representing Aurora and the 6th Congressional District in Congress. Just two years ago, the district was considered a key battleground between Crow and now-Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, a Republican.

Democrats also gained control of the traditionally-Republican Arapahoe County Commission and won state legislature elections in red regions.

In perhaps the most closely-watched race in the state, Democrat Chris Kolker handily defeated Republican Suzanne Staiert to represent Centennial’s Senate District 27, long a Republican stronghold. With the win, Kolker flipped the district blue. Outgoing Republican Jack Tate represented the area since 2017.

Tate had defeated Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan in 2016 by seven points. In Colorado’s so-called “blue wave” of 2018, Sullivan ran successfully in Centennial’s House District 37, staking out Democratic territory there. He easily defended the seat this year.

With the wins, the southeast metroplex continued a years-long march from purple-tinged to reliably liberal.

The wins came because of a strong showing from Democratic and unaffiliated voters whose disgust with President Donald Trump trickled down-ballot, said election analyst Ryan Winger of Louisville-based Magellan Strategies.

In Arapahoe County, Biden secured a 24% lead over Trump as of Nov. 9, expanding Hillary Clinton’s 14% lead in the county four years earlier.

In a more concerning trend for area Republicans, the Aurora region is also becoming more populated with younger, more diverse voters typically voting for liberal candidates. The upshot: Winger said local GOP candidates were swamped by “macro-forces at play that were, in many ways, beyond control.”

The metamorphosis is also shaping Colorado’s new status as a reliably-blue state.

This year, the once-dubbed “Purple State” punted lone Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and handed Biden a resounding, 13-point lead over President Donald Trump.

The federal government faces the prospects of more deadlock, but Colorado Democrats will continue to control both houses of the state Legislature with their election showing.

Lawmakers will be working alongside an all-Democratic array of state office holders including Gov. Jared Polis next year to tackle a series of mounting crises: a recession, a surging pandemic and huge wildfires fueled by a changing climate.

“People are out of work, they’re sick, and they’re looking for leadership — and they deserve it,” said Kristin Mallory, chairwoman of the Arapahoe County Democrats. She’s “proud” of the successful campaigns.

Susan Gilbert, an Aurora resident and member of Progressive Democrats of America’s Colorado branch, said the region’s blue trend is promising. But lawmakers will have to deliver on much-needed campaign promises, she said.

“We welcome this pattern and hope it continues, but it is important to focus on these important social justice issues that are crucial to our hearts,” Gilbert said, like healthcare and the environment.

Nationally, some suburban areas like Aurora and Centennial proved important to Biden’s victory. According to researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, suburbs from Georgia to Kansas and Colorado have grown and become more diverse and populated with liberal voters. The shift constitutes a “new battleground” in national politics, they said.

Arapahoe County GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Gotlieb said that’s the case here as well.

“It started in 2018. There was this demographic shift with many more Democrats moving into Arapahoe County,” she said.

One former GOP lawmaker, Cole Wist, said Republicans need to retool their strategy to win back voters. Wist was ousted from HD37 by Sullivan two years ago.

“GOP must learn how to compete again in the suburbs,” Wist said Nov. 9 on Twitter. “Focus more on kitchen table issues — low taxes, less regulation, fiscal restraint, supporting small businesses and free enterprise, strong public schools, personal responsibility — and less on issues that divide.”

Gotlieb noted that there are some bright spots for GOP candidates in the region. As of Nov. 10, Republican candidate John Kellner led Democrat Amy Padden to lead the 18th Judicial District — the state’s largest — as district attorney. House District 56 representative Rod Bockenfeld, a Republican, easily won reelection to represent a piece of southeast Aurora and eastern plains communities. And in another razor-tight race, Republican incumbent Jeff Baker led by 162 votes in his reelection bid for the Arapahoe County Commission.

Winger said it’s likely that area Republicans will see better results in future elections without President Trump in office. But Mallory says the demographic changes shaping Aurora and Centennial will propel Democrats focused on working-class residents.

In the meantime, “We need to be the loyal opposition, and we’ll work on that,” Gotlieb said of the local GOP.