Women turned out in force in Colorado on Election Day, casting 110,000 more ballots than men, based on unofficial results Friday. But it was primarily Democratic women who won the day: They outvoted Democratic men by 165,000 ballots and Republican women by 108,000 ballots.
Eighty-seven women (including 57 Democrats) competed for Colorado congressional and statewide offices in 2018. There was a woman running in six out of the seven congressional races – all but the 2nd Congressional District, which elected former CU Regent and Democrat Joe Neguse.
Next year, 12 of the state Senate’s members from all parties will be women, and – depending on how unresolved races go – as many as 33 of the of the 65 House members – a majority – could be women.
On the Republican side, the news as not so good for women. But on the Democratic side, the results speak for themselves:
Colorado elected Democrat Jena Griswold as secretary of state. She’s the first Democratic woman ever to hold the post and the first Democrat to be elected secretary of state since 1959.Women next year will be in the majority in both the Senate and House Democratic caucuses of the General Assembly.In the House, the 41-member Democratic caucus will have 25 women, based on unofficial vote tallies from Friday, with some votes still to be counted.Out of the 17 Senate races this year, 10 had Democratic women candidates, and they won six of the 10 seats.At the state Capitol, women were chosen for six of the nine elected leadership roles in the Democratic Senate caucus on Thursday, although the two top positions, president and majority leader, both went to men.In the House, a woman – KC Becker of Boulder – is the Speaker-designee, the third woman in a row to hold that post, following Democrats Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Crisanta Duran. Before Hullinghorst, only one woman had ever held the post, Republican Lola Spradley, in the 2004-05 sessions.It’s not exactly new for women to dominate one house or the other at the state Capitol. In the 2011-12 session, when Sen. Morgan Carroll was president, there were 14 women among the 21 Democrats. In the 2018 House, by the end of the session, the caucus was equally split with 18 women and 18 men.
But 2019 will be a first: Women in the majority for both Democratic caucuses and at the same time for the party that controls both houses of the General Assembly.
Yet the top spot on the ballot – governor – still eludes women from either major party.
Three women put in bids to become the state’s next chief executive. Two Democrats (Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy) – made it onto their party’s primary ballot, but lost to the eventual winner, Jared Polis. A third – Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman – fell short of making it onto the primary ballot.
‘Sitting at the kitchen table’It’s a different story for Republican women.
At the state Capitol, the Republican state Senate caucus will have one woman out of 16 members, Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, in the next session. In the general election, Republicans vied for three open seats, but only one was a woman – Christine Jensen in Senate District 20 – and she lost.
The news is better on the state House side. Out of its Republican caucus of 24, eight will be women in 2019. But that’s down one from the 2018 session. In the contest for the 65 House seats, Republican women candidates competed in 21 races, Democrats in 33. And nine of those races were women-only.
It’s not out of the norm for women to hold the top spot in the Republican caucus. Spradley did it before becoming speaker, and Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument served as majority leader as recently as 2012-13.
But not for 2019. In the House Republican caucus leadership elections Thursday, state Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs at first sought the minority leader post but pulled out at the last minute, stating she wanted to see a unified caucus, and the contest had become too much “us versus them.” (The caucus did elect two women – Reps. Lori Saine of Firestone and Perry Buck of Greeley – as caucus chair and whip, respectively.)
Landgraf heads into January for her fourth and final term in the House. She told Colorado Politics that there’s no strategy by Republicans to recruit women candidates in Colorado, adding that it doesn’t help that the issues most pushed in this election cycle by Republican men, such as transportation, don’t resonate as much with women.
“Women are sitting at the kitchen table, writing out checks for health insurance premiums” or wondering whether their children will succeed in school, she said, pointing to health care and education as issues that appeal more strongly to Republican women.
Conservative political strategist Laura Carno told Colorado Politics she agrees with Landgraf’s assessment on issues, but argued that there is a “kitchen table” aspect to transportation. If they’re sitting in traffic, they’re not at home with their families, she said.
“What we saw on Election Day is that regardless of what the issues are at the federal level, such as record low unemployment and the economy, what women in Colorado said (in the election) is that they don’t like the way the president is speaking and (that) ‘I’ll punish anyone with an R behind their name.’”
But it’s also “important for the Republican party to speak to women in language that is important to us,” Carno added.
“That’s not dumbing it down; it’s having enough women in these communications and leadership positions so that women have an equal voice at the table, and the message that appeals to women isn’t diluted,” she said.
Carno doesn’t believe the party needs to have a men’s strategy or women’s strategy. “We should be approaching what people are interested in” and not necessarily divided by gender.
The state GOP did not return a call for comment.
Making a concerted effortDemocrats aren’t shy about pursuing a women’s strategy. They point to recruiting efforts and programs like Emily’s List and Emerge Colorado (which lists among its successes the election of Faith Winter of Westminster, its national training director, as state senator).
Sen. Angela Williams chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, which she calls “The Historic Eight” because it will have that many black members in the 100-member General Assembly next year, the most ever.
“I think Colorado is a state that’s always been on the forefront of any movement or issues” regarding the rights and representation of women, the Denver Democrat said. “We’re just that kind of great progressive state.”
She said women working together, helping each other to learn the ins and outs of getting elected and serving, has been important.
“You’re seeing more people of color taking our places, just like women do, to make sure our voices are heard,” Williams said. “Black caucuses across the country are nothing new, but in Colorado, we’ve made great progress, but we’ve still got more to do.”
Sarah Chatfield, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver, took a close look at Tuesday night’s election results.
She cited term limits as a factor – it keeps the circulation going, she said – as well as the low pay for being a part-time lawmaker who often is called upon to do full-time work. That means the job lacks the prestige and money that may play a bigger role in other states, she said.
Democratic women also have succeeded because of voter perceptions of women candidates, Chatfield said: “Women are seen and perceived as more liberal, regardless of policy positions.” Unfortunately for Republican women, she added, in the country’s polarized political environment, it can be hard for Republican women to get elected who are perceived as moderate.
Republican women lack another tool that has made Democratic women successful in elections, according to Chatfield: Recruitment and a structure that supports women candidates.
Chatfield said there is plenty of research that shows when women run for office, they’re just as likely as men to win, but they need to be asked and recruited, and Republican women are not necessarily being recruited at the same rate.
“Democrats have made a concerted effort to recruit women as candidates,” she said. That includes providing special pots of funding, such as for pro-choice or progressives; as well as training and how to campaign. “Republicans are behind the curve on this.”
Michal Rosenoer is executive director of Democratic-run Emerge Colorado. She told Colorado Politics that the organization began training Democratic women to run for office in 2013, In the 2018 elections, 12 of the program’s 13 alumnae won offices.
“Women candidates as a group have embraced and given voice to issues that resonated: community, education, the environment, all components of the Colorado way of life, Rosenoer added.
“The Democratic Senate women candidates made it look easy,” she said. “In races that should have been won by 1 or 2 points, we won by 10 to 15 points.
“And it just goes to show that Coloradans are not only voting for change, but they’re also creating it with women at the lead.”
Joey Bunch of Colorado Politics contributed.