2016 winners won the middle – and the base

Looking at the ballot returns, it becomes clear that candidates who won in Colorado had a different formula than what propelled Donald Trump to win the White House, one that combines strong base turnout with a message that appeals to moderate voters.

While Donald Trump channeled voter frustration with Washington to become the president-elect and help Republicans maintain a majority in the US Senate, in Colorado neither Trump nor the Republican senate candidate, Darryl Glenn, were successful.

The Colorado electorate looks very different from many Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio that helped Trump past 270 electoral votes. Younger and more diverse, Colorado voters are more reflective of national demographic trends. A winning model in Colorado is a blueprint for success nationally.

However, demographics are not destiny, as even though Colorado voters cast their ballots for Democrats Hillary Clinton and Michael Bennet, they voted for Republican CU Regent candidate Heidi Ganahl and chose to keep the state senate in Republican hands with the election of Kevin Priola in State Senate District 25. They also sent Congressmen Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman back to Washington, each winning overwhelming majorities.

What caused some candidates to win big while others came up short? Here’s what the ballot returns tell us by looking at several competitive races around the state.

2016 Election Performance Among Non-Base Voters

Race Turnout Advantage Vote Advantage Non-Base Advantage
President 1.0% R 4.7% D 5.7% D
Senate 1.0% R 5.4% D 6.4% D
CU Regent 1.0% R 2.5% R 1.5% R
SD 19 0.4% D 1.8% D 1.4% D
SD 25 4.7% D 4.2% R 8.9% R
SD 26 3.1% D 6.9% D 3.8% D
SD 27 9.0% R 6.9% R 2.1% D
SD 35 2.5% R 23.7% R 21.2% R
HD 3 1.9% D 5.0% D 3.1% D
HD 17 4.0% D 7.8% D 3.8% D
HD 31 10.3% D 10.8% D 0.5% D
HD 59 3.1% R 1.5% D 4.6% D
CD 3 6.7% R 14.3% R 7.6% R
CD 6 1.9% R 8.3% R 6.4% R

Based on these numbers, it’s easy to see the trend: candidates who were successful, for the most part, not only held their own with non-base voters, but extended their lead. Look at CD 6, for example, where Mike Coffman had a 1.9 percent advantage in party turnout (comparing ballots cast by Republicans vs. Democrats), but ended up with an 8.3 percent win. To achieve that he had to win almost two-thirds of moderate voters.

In Senate District 35, Larry Crowder so over-performed among non-base voters that he almost certainly had to win a sizable chunk of Democrats. His opponent, Jim Casias, actually had fewer votes than there were Democrat voters (Casias: 21,939 votes; Democrat ballots: 23,702).

The really interesting race is Senate District 25, where Kevin Priola defied gravity to win 52-48 percent in a district where fewer Republicans cast ballots than either Democrats or unaffiliated voters. Democrats had a 4.7 percent party turnout advantage in that district, but Priola managed to win almost three out of four unaffiliated voters to put him over the top.

In the hotly contested race for University of Colorado Regent At Large, Republican Heidi Ganahl outperformed other statewide Republicans to beat self-described progressive activist Alice Madden 51-49 percent.

In each of these successful races — Coffman, Priola and Ganahl — winning over moderates involved hard work, smart campaigning and a positive message.

Note that none of these attributes have anything to do with governing principles. The candidates’ voting records were secondary to their personal appeal and message.

It’s a model that conservatives can replicate anywhere.

So often, conservatives are focused on the actual policy and outcomes of government actions that they lose sight of the optics. Liberals, on the other hand, often put the optics first and worry about the outcomes later.

Therefore, the formula for conservative success in competitive districts is simple, but it is not easy. Conservatives must be anchored to their principles while governing and be authentic, honest, engaging and positive while campaigning.

By maintaining a vigilant focus on the proper role of government, while developing a parallel focus on messages that resonate with the public, conservatives are in a strong position to win even in the most difficult environments.

Principles That Matter is here to help develop strategies and effective messages to educate the public about the benefits of conservative ideas that create more opportunity and freedom for all of us. If we can be helpful to your organization, please contact us.