Voters in Purple Colorado Weigh Their Primary Options

DENVER (CN) – Purple state voters like those in Colorado don’t always offer a good measurement for predicting the results of the 2020 Democratic primary, but they are always primed to discuss the nitty-gritty nuances.

“I used to live in Vermont and Bernie is the last person I’d vote for,” said Thomas Maher Democrat in Denver, referring to the current 2020 front-runner for the Democrats, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Maher had just climbed up on the risers to get the best spot at a campaign event for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“Well, Bernie’s the second to last person I’d vote for, because if it was between him and Trump, I would vote Bernie,” Maher added with a chuckle. “I’ve given money to Amy [Klobuchar], Elizabeth [Warren], and Pete [Buttigieg], and they all seem reasonably stable,” he added. “The key is motivation. We have good momentum. Let’s hope it keeps going.”

Minnesota Sen. and 2020 presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign rally in Aurora, Colorado. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)

Morning Consult gives Sanders a 32% lead leaving this past weekend’s Nevada caucuses while FiveThirtyEight gives him a 47% chance of winning enough delegates to seal the party nomination. The former poll places former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in second and former Vice President Joe Biden in third with 19% and 18% support, respectively, while the latter poll ranks Biden much lower with an 8% chance of getting the delegates needed to win the nomination.

In Colorado on Super Tuesday, Sanders looks to at least repeat history: he handily beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 with 59% of the vote. This month, he drew 11,000 supporters to the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.

Few Coloradans would be surprised if the political forecast changes in a state that commonly sees sunny skies in the 60s followed by snow. After all, the campaign trail leading into March veers more left than it did when the Emerson poll gave Sanders a 1% lead over former rival Biden this past August.

“As it stands now, we might continue to see very mixed results. It’s impossible to forecast with precision what’s going to happen with lots of delegates obviously at stake,” said James McCann, a political science professor at Purdue University.

McCann said a contested convention is unlikely. If a clear front-runner doesn’t emerge on Super Tuesday after 14 states and overseas Democrats cast their ballots, he said, “others will see the writing on the wall and drop out.”

Although nearly equal shares of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters inhabit this region of the Rockies, the swing state has leaned decidedly blue in recent years – packing both the statehouse and governor’s mansion with Democrats and flipping the famously conservative 6th District with a donkey during the midterm blue wave. Voters didn’t know it at the time, but this congressman, a first-time politician named Jason Crow, would go on to prosecute articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in the Senate.

More than 3,000 supporters gathered in Denver to show support for former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who is running for president in 2020. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)

Colorado opened its primaries in 2016, allowing unaffiliated voters to weigh in on either party’s ticket. As of Feb. 21, only 422,861 voters mailed in their ballots to the Secretary of State’s office – about 10% of eligible voters.

Traveling from the Nevada caucuses to South Carolina, four more candidates braved the Mile High City’s elevation to vie for the votes of decidedly undecided voters, including Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and winner of the Iowa contest.

“I pay attention to all the races and he struck me as an actual millennial running,” said Aaron Pickering, a Denver Democrat and automotive technician. “I watched the congressional hearings with [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg and a lot of the other tech hearings, and their questions are completely nonsensical.”

He noted he remembers watching his dad’s small business upended by the 2008 financial meltdown. “I want a president who has actually grown up and been shaped by 2008,” he said.

In a royal blue suit, Buttigieg instructed 3,000 supporters to “form in your head the image that keeps me going: Imagine the sun coming up over the Rockies and Donald Trump is no longer president.”

While Buttigieg has a 17-delegate lead on Sen. Warren of Massachusetts, her Feb. 23 event had a longer line. According to her campaign, 300 people waited outside the sold-out Fillmore Auditorium in Denver. Warren did not have time to take selfies before her flight to South Carolina but promised the 3,800 Coloradans in attendance she would make up for it when she returned to campaign for the general election.

Pins declaring support for Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)

The woman with a plan for everything wasted no time making her case against Bloomberg, who has been flooding the airwaves with millions of dollars in ads.

“I don’t want to trade one billionaire for another,” Warren said, building up her plan to levy a 2% wealth tax on individuals with more than $500 million to their name, raising $3.75 trillion to fund services ranging from universal child care to student loan forgiveness.

Although controversial among party moderates, the crowd chanted “two cents, two cents,” without missing a beat.

Where Warren sees big dreams, however, others see big risks. For Bloomberg, the only issue that matters is beating Trump.

According Dr. Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, Bloomberg’s rise is indicative not only of the power of the dollar, but also of the party’s thirst to win.

“I can’t think of too many people in the party who are like ‘We want Bloomberg because of his policy on X, he’s got the right solution.’ No one says stop and frisk is the way forward for our country or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s ‘We think he has the key to defeating Trump.’”

In his forthcoming book “Learning from Loss,” Masket studied how the Democratic Party establishment responded to its defeat in the 2016 election.

“The main thing I’m finding is how difficult it’s been for people in the Democratic Party to reason out why they’ve lost. You have several different stories: the problem is Hillary, it’s the message, it’s the strategy, the problem is James Comey, or it’s Russia,” Masket said. “There’s lots of different narratives about why that loss happened and depending on what you believe it could lean you in a different direction going forward.”

Each campaign is testing its own theory against voters: from progressive Bernie’s “Medicare for All,” to Buttigieg’s tepid “Medicare for All Who Want It,” from Klobuchar’s campaign kickoff in Wisconsin to Biden’s bet on South Carolina, from Warren’s plans to Bloomberg’s dollars.

Perhaps just as telling as the polls and the pundits are the plastic signs joining front yard flamingos across Denver neighborhoods. Among the white “Bernie for President,” green “Amy for America,” and blue “Warren 2020” yard signs, some residents are instead pledging their support for “Any Functioning Adult.”

Campaign buttons declare support for former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who is running for president in 2020. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)
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