Kamala Harris is the face of this year’s election, but she doesn’t stand alone.
Women of color are the political force capable of reshaping the American political landscape the way it’s already configured Colorado.
Two days before the election, our Ernest Luning reported the stark differences borne out in an eleventh-hour poll.
The Keating-OnSight-Melanson survey indicated suburban women favored former Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democrat, by a gobsmacking 32 points, 62% to 30%, while Biden topped Trump by 40 in the demographic, 65% to 25%, as both Democrats cruised on Election Day.
Women vote. Across all demographics, they turn out about 5% higher than men. In 93 million early votes as of Monday, 53% were from women.
In the last count before Election Day, Colorado women cast 113,564 more votes than men. Democratic women, meanwhile, were outvoting Republican women by 155,818 ballots.
The growth sector in politics, however, is most certainly women of color, so expect the arc of the political universe to bend in that direction.
In the 2006, 2010 and 2014 midterms, turnout among women of color was 39%, 39% and 35%, respectively. In 2018, turnout jumped to 48%, with expectations for it to go much higher in the Trump-Biden race, according to the journal Democracy in its summer edition titled “Can Women Save America?”
Four years ago and again this year, Democrats took voters of color for granted, as Trump won narrow races in swing states, including gains with Latinos in South Florida — a group Hillary Clinton won by 30 percentage points and Biden only 7.
Democrats should know better, but both parties need to wake up and speak to those voters in a different way.
Lizeth Chacon, the executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Colorado People’s Action, said while it was exciting to see a woman of color at the top of the ticket at last, it’s about more than that. It’s about true representation.
Communities of color know the cynicism that’s enveloped America: Politicians show up to campaign for votes, then disappear, leaving people no better off than they were before.
“When the outreach happens in an election year only, it’s transactional,” Chacon told me. “It’s because you want something from people of color or women of color, not because you’re willing to build a long-term relationship to shift things for the country and to shift things for the state.”
Republican or Democrat, the candidate who shows up to do the work after the election will have friends and voters next time around, she said.
“The work doesn’t end on Election Day,” she said. “It’s just beginning.”
Parity, much less equity, is not yet reality. Of 535 voting members of Congress, 101 women are in the House and 26 in the Senate, about a quarter of each chamber.
In the state Senate, men will still outnumber women 22-13, but in the Democratic caucus women lead men 12-9.
In February, Colorado lost its status as one of only three states with a female majority in its House of Representatives, when Republican Rep. Susan Beckman, who took a job in the Trump administration, was replaced by Columbine Valley Mayor Richard Champion.
That left the Colorado House with 33 men and 32 women, which changed to 34 women and 31 men on Election Day.
Overall, 72 women — 52 of them Democrats — ran for 85 Colorado legislative seats this year. There were 105 men in 66 races.
Democratic women have a built-in advantage, however. Emerge Colorado provides training and support to those considering office on how to campaign, raise money and govern, among the resources. This year, 42% of Democratic women and 31% of all women running for the state Legislature were products of Emerge.
“Women have been the deciding voters in Colorado’s electoral politics for cycles, and yet are still underrepresented at every level of government,” said Michal Rosenoer, the executive director of Emerge and an Edgewater City Council member. “More women than ever have been stepping up to run — at least on the Democratic ticket — for the past four years, and I don’t see that changing.”
Republicans in Colorado have tried to follow suit with its own women’s training organization, but it hasn’t taken hold in the era of Trump.
Colorado Republicans face many challenges, and the gender gap is one of its biggest. Lauren Boebert became the first woman elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District on the Western Slope, the lone bright spot for the party in Colorado this year. Yet, University of Colorado Regent at-large Heidi Ganahl is the only Republican elected statewide, regardless of gender.
The GOP would be smart to follow its winners, not a political patriarchy that feeds its irrelevance.
The party must move to the center, away from its base, if it wants to stay relevant.
“The Republican Party continues to recruit the right-wing fringe vote to hold onto any semblance of power, and in doing so has adopted more and more hate-filled and openly sexist rhetoric and policies,” Emerge’s Rosenoer appraised, more bluntly than I. “Women voters in Colorado just aren’t going to stand for that, and it should be no surprise more of them are stepping up to run. The more you threaten our rights, the faster we’ll come for your seat.”