As the United States goes, so goes Arapahoe County. Such was the prevailing mood Nov. 2 when many county Republicans walked to victories. The wins …
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As the United States goes, so goes Arapahoe County.
Such was the prevailing mood Nov. 2 when many county Republicans
walked to victories. The wins came as the GOP also wrestled control
of the the federal and state houses of representatives and took new
governorships in nine states.
In the Arapahoe County government, three Republican incumbents
held on to their seats in easy wins for the sheriff, assessor and
clerk and recorder. The party also regained the county treasurer’s
office — taken by Democrats for the first time in 2006 — by a
healthy 10 percentage points.
In the race to represent Arapahoe County’s District 2,
Republican Greenwood Village Mayor Nancy Sharpe handily defeated
Democratic Centennial City Councilmember Rebecca McClellan by 22
At the state level, two Centennial Republicans — state Reps.
Spencer Swalm and David Balmer — each beat back challengers by
22-point spreads. In Littleton, first-time Republican Kathleen
Conti defeated state Rep. Joe Rice, a moderate Democrat, by a
narrow 2 points.
Celebrating the range of GOP victories was Dave Kerber, chairman
of the Arapahoe County Republican Party. He helped field the party
slate and calls the elections a sign of widespread dissatisfaction
“I’m not sure it was a tsunami, but it kind of put us back to
where we were in ’06,” the chair said of Republican wins. “We’ll
have most of the seats back in the county. It looks like an R-brand
year. We’re kind of back.”
Back, that is, after two disappointing election cycles in the
once Republican-safe county. Mike Hamrick, chairman of the Arapahoe
County Democratic Party downplays the recent losses as part of the
cycle of politics.
“We took a little bit of a hit,” he said. “But we still have
seven of 11 state House members and four out of the five in the
Colorado Senate. At the end of the day, we’re the majority party in
Arapahoe County — but it’s close.”
Change to believe in
The 2006 and 2008 election cycles reflected the fragile
Democratic majority in Arapahoe County. As a result of demographic
shifts and the 2006 Obama registration push, Democrats still hold
an advantage of more than 8,000 voters in a county once known as a
Unaffiliated and minor-party voters — the wild card in the
increasingly “purple” and highly competitive county — number
slightly below the Republicans.
The Democratic infusion has been as politically substantial as
the more recent Tea Party movement and 2010’s midterm rebellion
against President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
In 2008, Obama beat Sen. John McCain by 13 percentage points,
marking the first time Arapahoe County had gone for a Democratic
presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
That election also brought a narrow victory for state Sen. Linda
Newell, D-Littleton, and the re-election of Rep. Joe Rice, who had
taken his seat in the formerly Republican district two years
earlier in a surprise win.
On Democratic coattails came Doug Milliken, the county’s first
Democratic treasurer. And, for the first time in history, two
Democrats served at the same time on the five-member Arapahoe
County Board of Commissioners.
The trickle-down effect
What a difference two years can make.
Arapahoe County in 2010 was a microcosm of the Republican
resurgence that had been predicted for months everywhere from Fox
News to the political blogosphere.
According to Democrat chair Hamrick, the trickle-down to local,
highly functional county races was an unfortunate side effect of
“A lot of the backlash you see locally is backlash at D.C. I
think it’s misplaced,” Hamrick said. “The folks that control
elections, the unaffiliateds, decided we needed change from top to
For example, Hamrick thinks Treasurer Milliken’s investment
successes took a back seat in the low-profile race to national
concerns about healthcare reform because of the “D” by Milliken’s
name on the ballot.
But incoming Republican Treasurer Sue Sandstrom, who had
questioned Milliken’s work ethic and personal finances during the
campaign, thinks there was more to her 20-point victory than party
Sandstrom, a Republican Aurora City Council member, had lost to
Milliken in Democrat-friendly 2006 before successfully challenging
the incumbent again this year.
“It certainly didn’t hurt being a Republican this time around,”
she said. “But four years ago, it was an open seat. This time,
there was an incumbent involved. I take that as a statement that
people wanted change.”
A dead heat
The coroner’s race illustrates how far the Republican sweep has
gone. Although Democrat incumbent Dobersen may eke out a victory,
the contest to lead the functional office was among the most
overtly partisan in the county.
Dobersen is one of only four coroners in Colorado who is
qualified to conduct autopsies. There are no legal requirements for
county coroners so most appoint medical examiners.
At press time, Dobersen, M.D., a nationally recognized forensic
pathologist, was leading Republican attorney Ledbetter by little
more than 1,100 votes. During the campaign, Ledbetter emphasized
his Republican affiliation and questioned Dobersen’s ethics, though
he later retracted his most scurrilous charges.
Hamrick, the Democratic chair, calls the coroner’s race
“shockingly close.” Dobersen says he has been dumbfounded by the
partisan nature of the campaign.
“I don’t know that people understand that these [jobs] are
nonpolitical and we should get the most qualified people,” Dobersen
said of the coroner’s office. “As much as we worked to get that
message out, obviously, it didn’t reach enough people.”
Ledbetter says he trusts the electorate to choose who is best
suited to serve.
“Voters make their decisions based on what they know. They look
like they split pretty evenly,” he said.
The Republican advantage was no more apparent than in state
House District 37, where incumbent Republican Swalm handily
defeated first-time candidate Brett Godfrey by 22 percentage
In what had been an increasingly competitive district after
years of favoring Republicans, Swalm has previously defeated his
opponents by a few points. He has even purchased bus-stop
advertising — an expensive proposition that would have been
overkill for a District 37 Republican five years ago.
Swalm thinks Godfrey may have learned hard lessons on his first
run for office in a competitive district.
“Like him or not, Brett didn’t do anything,” Swalm said. “He
hardly rang any doorbells.”
Like Swalm, Republican Nancy Sharpe resoundingly defeated
Democrat Rebecca McClellan by 22 points in the race to represent
District 2 on the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners.
The two had served together — and often sparred — on an
intergovernmental coalition that was established to facilitate the
redesign of the intersection of Arapahoe Road and I-25. The subject
had become a major focus of the contentious campaign.
“I’m focusing on jobs, controlling spending and making sure we
have transportation solutions, even though that has been distorted
[by McClellan],” Sharpe said.
Exceptions to the rulers
Despite obvious Republican leanings this year, Arapahoe County
was not entirely unfriendly to Democrats.
At press time, Democrat Nancy Jackson was narrowly leading
Republican Bob Fitzgerald by 54 votes in the District 4 race for
county commissioner. The district is centered largely in Aurora,
the county’s longtime Democrat stronghold.
The county also handed victories to Democratic Gov.-elect John
Hickenlooper, who bested second-place hopeful Tom Tancredo by 13
points in the county, and gave a narrow win to Democratic U.S. Sen.
“I figured it would be close,” Kerber said. “I think those ads
that just pounded may have hurt [Republican Ken Buck] with
U.S. Rep Ed Perlmutter defeated rising Republican star Ryan
Frazier by 23 points in Arapahoe County — though the 7th
Congressional District also includes parts of Democratic-leaning
Adams and Jefferson counties.
“Find somebody that works harder for the community — there isn’t
any,” Hamrick said of Perlmutter.
As both parties face the looming 2012 presidential election,
Hamrick and Kerber think their respective parties can seize the
changing partisan zeitgeist by staying tuned in to the body politic
and putting forth the best candidates.
“We also need to publicize our officials and what they do,”
Hamrick said, noting what he considers the under-appreciated work
of lesser-known Democrats like Milliken and Dobersen.
Kerber thinks Republican fortunes in two years will be tied to
performance of officials, top to bottom. Incumbents elected this
year will have a significant impact on 2012, according to the
“If Arapahoe County is run well, if it’s efficient, if there’s
no scandals with the officials, I think most people will say, ‘I’m
not going to mess with them.’” Kerber said of GOP incumbents. “We
need to represent the people well. That sounds kind of trite, but
it’s really true.”
Results at a glance
State House District 37
Spencer Swalm, R - 61%
Brett Godfrey, D - 39%
State House District 38
Kathleen Conti, R - 51%
Joe Rice, D - 49%
County District 2
Nancy Sharpe, R - 61%
Rebecca McClellan, D - 39%
Clerk and Recorder
Nancy Doty, R - 68%
Ray Flesher, D - 32%
Sue Sandstrom, R - 55%
Doug Milliken, D - 45%
Corbin Sakdol, R - 56%
Annette Springs, D - 44%
Grayson Robinson, R - 59%
Tom Donahue, D - 41%
Michael Dobersen, D - 50.3%
Jay Ledbetter, R - 49.7%
[At press time, Dobersen led
Ledbetter by 1,028 votes.]
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