DENVER — Despite strong economic headwinds blowing against him, President Barack Obama cruised to a narrow but decisive victory over Republican Mitt Romney Tuesday night, winning a second term over a challenger claiming to have momentum in the campaign’s closing weeks and in spite of a historic amount of money spent to defeat him.
In carrying Colorado, and every other battleground state save North Carolina, the president is the big winner; and Romney, who gave a short, almost terse concession speech in Boston Tuesday night is quite clearly the night’s biggest loser.
Beyond the top-line candidates, Election Night offered early and decisive outcomes in a majority of races, both nationally and across Colorado. Here’s a look at a list of the night’s most obvious winners and losers.
Bill Clinton: Bubba, who crystallized the case for Obama in Charlotte and then criss-crossed the country to get out his vote in the campaign’s final days, was Barry’s MVP. It was a marriage of convenience of sorts between 42 and 44; not just did his DNC keynote return Clinton to national prominence, Obama’s win now allows the former president to take a good bit of the credit. Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton to serve as his Secretary of State four years ago likely started a slow reconciliation process between the two First Families of the Democratic Party following their bitter primary fight.
The partnership that blossomed between them this fall paid dividends for everyone: for a president who, ultimately, cruised to a second term; a former president who reminded the country of his ability to explain complex policy points in simple terms and his enduring appeal with working-class whites; and a cabinet secretary now in position to become her party’s standard-bearer in four years if she so chooses to take one more shot at the White House.
Nate Silver and the Geeks: Never has a math nerd had a better Election Night than Nate Silver of the New York Times had Tuesday. Silver nailed every projection in every state — all 50 of them. The statistician’s forecast, the most-viewed item on the Times website for weeks, offered emotional comfort to Democratic partisans who found Silver’s steady prediction that Obama would win, despite apparent momentum for Romney, so therapeutic. Ultimately, Silver’s analysis validates the triumph of analyzing math over momentum and levels conservatives’ claims of a general bias in polling data. As the results came in Tuesday night, painting a clear picture of an election that appeared to validate Silver, the blogger simply tweeted: “This is probably a good time to link to my book.”
Indeed. Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, hasn’t drawn nearly the level of attention as Silver; but his own treatise on micro-targeting, a model that propelled the Obama campaign to a clear victory despite a challenging electorate, is all the more relevant — and more prescient — Wednesday morning.
Colorado’s Congressional Incumbents: You wouldn’t know Congress has an approval rating in the teens by the way Coloradans sent all seven incumbent members back to Washington on Tuesday night. Despite a re-drawn district and his May remark about President Obama not being an American in his heart, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, scored a decisive win over Democrat Joe Miklosi. In Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, the state’s original swing district, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, now appears to be unbeatable; two years after an 11-point win amidst a national GOP wave, he sailed a 12-point edge over Republican Joe Coors, who spent $3.5 million of his own money on the race. Out in the sprawling 3rd C.D., Rep. Scott Tipton handily defeated Democrat Sal Pace.
In two of the state’s safest districts, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette gain sailed to a 9th term in Denver and Yuma Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, whose campaign basically consisted of one television ad, notched an easy win as well. Both DeGette and Gardner are in positions to rise in the ranks of their respective caucuses; their increasing clout in Congress should serve their districts, and Colorado, well.
LGBT Equality: Across the country, it was a good night for LGBT equality, with Democrat Tammy Baldwins’s victory over Republican Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin that will make here the country’s first openly gay U.S. Senator come January. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage; and in Minnesota, they defeated a proposed constitutional amendment, modeled on federal law, that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state.
Colorado, come Thursday, will also have a historic story to tell. Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, is poised to become the first openly gay House Speaker. In the Senate, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who’s also gay and sponsored the civil unions legislation along with Ferrandino, is the odds-on favorite to become the next Senate President when leadership elections are held Thursday. Much like 2008, when Terrance Carroll and Peter Groff made history as the first African American legislative leadership tandem in the country, Ferrandino and Steadman could make their own history; and the civil unions legislation they sponsored is likely to be on the governor’s desk by early February.
Hancock and Hickenlooper: Gov. John Hickenlooper, known for tiptoeing around the edges of partisan politics, embraced his inner Democrat over the final two months of the election — and he ended up on the winning team with Obama and the new House Democratic majority, having campaigned hard for both. His Election Night enthusiasm and excitement was visible to anyone watching his speech at the Sheraton and even a bit out of character. Hickenlooper may have a tougher time with a Democrat-controlled legislature without the split control of the Capitol’s two chambers that has prevented much partisan legislation from reaching his desk. But his work campaigning for Democratic House candidates no doubt came with a pledge from Speaker-to-be Mark Ferrandino to limit controversial Democratic bills from within his caucus.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, an early and outspoken supporter of Obama’s who’s always been less tentative than his predecessor when it comes to entering the partisan fray, won a major victory of his own Tuesday night, the overwhelming passage of Measure 2A. The vote will “de-Bruce” Denver, enabling the city to keep about $68 million in annual tax revenue that had been refunded to tapayers — money that will enable the city to address a structural fiscal deficit without cutting city services. Faced with an array of options including charging fees for trash pickup, which polled poorly, Hancock risked irking the business community and large property owners who will be disproportionately impacted by the de-Brucing. The fact that none of them voiced their opposition publicly, that the Chamber of Commerce stayed neutral and the voters’ ultimate decision to approve the measure are all signs that Hancock and his administration more than made the case.
Latinos: To put it simply, Mitt Romney lost an election most Republicans thought was theirs to win because he performed so poorly with Latinos, who amounted to 10 percent of the overall electorate in 2012, the first time ever that number’s hit double digits. Unlike George W. Bush, whose 2000 win was driven, in small part, by a new GOP outreach effort with Latinos, Romney turned them off with positions espoused during a long Republican primary where he outlined his support for a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and his opposition to in-state tuition for undocumented students. “It’s not that Latinos don’t like Mitt Romney, it’s the Latinos felt like Mitt Romney doesn’t like them,” KBNO-AM’s Fernando Sergio said on FOX31 Denver Tuesday night. In Colorado, a microcosm of sorts for the electorate nationally, President Obama won Latinos by a three-to-one margin, 75-23 percent; that’s a 14-point improvement over his 2008 margin, 61-38 percent over Sen. John McCain. As Republicans in Congress think through how much to work with the president next year on comprehensive immigration reform, they’ll do so with the memory of an Election Night during which the nation’s fastest growing voting bloc flexed its muscle in a major way.
Colorado Republicans: Since 2004, when Democrats began a string of statewide wins that continues to this day, Colorado has been considered an increasingly “purple” state, one that’s neither solidly Republican red nor Democratic blue. After Tuesday night, when Obama carried Colorado by four points despite the still sagging economy, some Republicans lamented another election cycle’s worth of evidence confirming that the state is now effectively blue. “I have to go back a decade to remember the last time we won a statewide race,” said former GOP state Rep. Rob Witwer.
Colorado Republicans are also looking at a still barren bench of viable statewide candidates. Former congressman Bob Beauprez, who served as the chief cheerleader and emcee for the Romney campaign in Colorado, could benefit from so much time back on the stump before conservative audiences; he may be the party’s best option to take on Sen. Mark Udall in 2014. A few months ago, Colorado’s GOP Chairman Ryan Call told me he considered legislative candidates Lang Sias, who challenged Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, and Brian Watson, who took on Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Denver, to be rising stars within the party. Here’s the thing Call wasn’t counting on — both Sias and Watson lost Tuesday night (although Sias trails Hudak by just 105 votes as of Wednesday morning, it’s unlikely he’d overcome that margin in the final count). It’s tough to be a viable statewide candidate down the road if you can’t get elected to the statehouse. Paging Josh Penry?
Speaker Frank McNulty: House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, will be remembered for two things: the political suicide he effectively committed in May by shutting down the legislative process in the penultimate day of the session because it was the only way to prevent the passage of civil unions legislation and how quickly that suicide came to pass. On the night of the epic House meltdown, Republican attorney Mario Nicolais told me: “Civil unions will pass. And so will the Republican House majority.” That’s exactly what happened Tuesday night, when Democrats won nearly every contested House seat, erasing McNulty’s 33-32 majority and likely ending the Republican’s political career. It’s rumored that the Speaker plans to resign his seat on Thursday, when the House GOP caucus elects new leaders.
Democrats on the ballot in 2014: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall basked in the glow of big Democratic wins on Tuesday night. But both know the outcome may complicate life for them somewhat. Hickenlooper, who’s faced just one difficult “sign or veto?” decision in his first two years in office, will no doubt see more partisan Democratic bills reaching his desk in his final two years; that said, without split control of the legislature, he also may have an easier time driving the legislative agenda on the Capitol’s second floor. But in two years, after six years of the Obama presidency, the 2014 election could be another mid-term pendulum swing against the incumbent. That’s a bigger concern for Udall than Hickenlooper at this point, with Congressional approval ratings way south of the governor’s own. The silver lining here, as we just alluded to, is the dearth of GOP challengers lining up to take them on. But a lot can happen in two years.
GOP Megadonors: If you think Joe Coors is bummed having spent $3.5 million in a race he lost by 12 points, imagine being Sheldon Adelson, who spent close to $40 million to defeat President Obama. Imagine being the Koch brothers. In total, four conservative nonprofits and the business industry’s lead trade association spent nearly $300 million on political efforts since 2011, accounting for 70 percent of the so-called “dark money” reported to have been spent in a presidential race their candidate would lose by more than 100 electoral votes. Adding insult to injury: they’re now looking at a significant tax hike. Enough said.
Conservative media: Conservatives have grown so distrustful of everything they are told by the mainstream media, it becomes easy for them to fall into the trap of assuming that polls showing Obama winning are inherently flawed. Even last night, when any political novice could tell that the president was on his way to reelection based solely on the early indications from a number of eastern states, Karl Rove, sitting on the Fox News Channel set, refused to accept the network’s conclusion that Obama had won Ohio. His on-air tantrum became an instant YouTube sensation, a flashpoint of conservative anger that encapsulated the ugly truth that conservatives had long been living inside a Fox News Channel/Rush Limbaugh bubble, failing to acknowledge any events or viewpoints that didn’t mesh with their own conservative ideology and political fantasies.
Viewers and listeners so wrapped up inside that bubble with obsessive coverage of Benghazi didn’t realize how out of line they were with the rest of the country. In Colorado, conservatives dismissing the work of pollster Chris Keating on the grounds that he’s worked for Hickenlooper and Udall, overlooked a series of polls that were spot-on. A day before the election, Keating had Obama leading Romney 50-46; it was a four-point win for Obama, 52-48, in the end.
Living within that conservative echo chamber doesn’t seem to serve viewers all that well, given that insulating oneself from reality only works for so long. Feigning confidence and hoping it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy — or, perhaps worse, actually believing in a fantasy while ignoring or dismissing massive amounts of polling data because it doesn’t add up to a positive outcome — none of it seems to serve viewers all that well in the end, much less American democracy. Even the Romney campaign was drinking the conservative media Kool-Aid, with aides acknowledging Wednesday what was plainly evident from the candidate’s halfhearted, hastily thrown together concession speech — that they truly expected they would win.
As Rick Perry said, “Oops.”