a series of economic changes and population shifts, Colorado isn't
what it used to be politically speaking.
population is largely urban with more than half of Coloradoans
living in the metropolis of Denver, and four-fifths occupying
a highly developed strip that parallels its Front Range -- where
the Rocky Mountains jut out from Colorado's plateau.
of economic boom and bust and population changes date back to
the 1850s when a gold mining boom attracted the first settlers.
As gold mining died down, the state hit an economic slump that
was eventually overcome by a silver boom. The state's economy
cycled downward again in the 1930s with the Great Depression but
was revitalized after World War II when its great outdoors attracted
skiers and tourists.
the postwar tourism boom continued, Denver grew into a meatpacking,
banking and manufacturing center. In the 1970s, Denver became
a regional center for the federal government and new businesses
continued to build up the city. Ski resorts, year-round mountain
condominiums and new buildings shot up around Denver as the region
continued to grow.
In the 1990s
Colorado began its latest boom -- a technology and telecommunications
burst that has built up its largely Republican suburbs. Good jobs
and outdoor attractions have brought highly skilled workers to
Colorado. For this reason, the state's 4.5 million population
continues to grow, as do the number of entrepreneurs and tech-savvy
ranks seventh in per capita income and second in the nation for
college graduates. Its economy grew by more than 6 percent annually
throughout much of the 1990s and by 8.8 percent between 1999 and
come from California and Texas to take advantage of the high tech
growth. Primarily white and affluent, they tend to move to the
suburbs and keep Colorado's conservative base growing.
is a conservative state and is becoming more conservative,"
University of Colorado at Denver Professor Tony Robinson said.
"For everyone who moves into the state and registers to vote,
two of them register Republican."
Republicans outnumber Democrats by roughly 188,000 voters.
especially Denver, also has attracted a lot of Latinos -- a population
that tends to lean Democratic.
influence may be muted, however, by the fact that less than half
of the eligible Colorado Latinos voted in 2000's presidential
cities and their suburbs, then, remain politically separated.
Boulder, Denver and Pueblo, cities located in the central and
north central areas of the state, are heavily Democratic. The
environmentally friendly, slow-growth Democrats from the 1970s,
who built the outdoor sports shops, vegetarian restaurants and
pedestrian malls of this region, remain there today.
But the newcomers
to the state tend to migrate to Colorado Springs, a south central
suburb that is a highly conservative Republican region. Colorado's
eastern plain, a farming community, also remains heavily conservative.
western mountainous side of the state replicates its eastern counterpart
as heavily Republican -- except for the San Luis Valley, which
is rural, Latino and low income. This region, a neighbor of the
more liberal New Mexico, remains a Democratic stronghold.
Historically, the state has voted Republican, with a few notable
exceptions. Colorado's primarily conservative voters tend to focus
on tax rates, suburban quality of life, urban sprawl, pollution
and traffic as key issues, Robinson said.
But in the
1970s, during the energy price boom, a steady stream of Democrats
gained local and national office by promoting slow-growth. Democratic
Gov. Dick Lamm, Sen. Gary Hart, Rep. Patricia Schroeder and Rep.
Tim Wirth were all part of this movement.
controlled the governor's office from 1974 to 1998. Despite the
Democratic stronghold on the governorship, however, Republicans
ruled the legislature, making Democratic legislation difficult
national economic and political atmosphere combined with population
surges has tipped the state more conservative -- especially in
the religious, family-oriented Colorado Springs. Since the 1990s
voting trends have remained conservative, only wavering under
economic or population-change pressure.
passed two key referenda in the early 1990s. In 1990, Colorado
set term limits, becoming the first state to pass such legislation.
Then, in 1992, Colorado passed a law requiring a popular vote
to raise taxes.
have held on to some offices. Coloradoans elected Rep. Ben Nighthorse
Campbell to the U.S. Senate and former President Clinton carried
the state in 1992.
But a new
GOP wave soon swept the state. Campbell switched parties in 1995,
marking the first time in over 20 years that Republicans controlled
Colorado's two U.S. Senate seats. In 1996, Colorado was one of
only three states to switch its vote from Bill Clinton to Bob
Dole in the presidential election. The state also elected Republican
Wayne Allard to the Senate that year. In 1998, Republicans took
the governor seat, electing Bill Owens as its first GOP governor
since 1970. Republicans also maintained their dominance in the
In 2000, President
Bush easily carried the state. In 2002 the Republicans gained
even more ground in Colorado as Owens and Allard were reelected,
Republicans kept their hold on the state House, regained a majority
in the state Senate and nabbed Colorado's new 7th Congressional
did lose a referendum that would have limited Spanish-language
bilingual education to one year, but this was one of their only
losses to Democrats in 2002.
In spite of
recent GOP dominance, 2004 seems to be up for grabs. With a U.S.
Senate race in the works that pits a big-time Republican business
executive versus a Democratic two-time statewide office holder,
the race is looking tight.
And the stakes
are high. The Senate race, according to many pundits, could determine
who takes the state in the presidential election.
Based on Colorado's
volatile voting history despite its grounded conservative roots,
the state could be looking at another changing political scene.
for the Online NewsHour by Deirdre