Running, knocking, stuffing, or voting: “Women decide close elections in Colorado”

About two dozen suburban Denver women sipped wine and ate prepackaged meat and cheese boards in a Greenwood Village office while they made calls in mid-August for Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton.

A few weeks later, in a downtown Denver skyscraper framed by postcard- worthy mountain views to the west and a wall of Coors Light memorabilia to the east, women gathered to learn the merits of ballot questions.

And just a few days ago, a cadre of moms and grandmas knocked on doors at the edge of suburbia in Highlands Ranch for Democratic U.S. House candidate Jason Crow.

One of the defining national storylines of the 2018 midterm elections is that women are playing a pivotal role. Whether it’s the unprecedented number of female candidates or the courtship for their vote, women are figuring into nearly every campaign’s political calculus in ways unseen since 1992.

While this might be news in the other 49 states, women have long played an important role in Colorado politics, political watchers here say.

“Women decide close elections in Colorado,” said Debbie Brown, a Republican strategist and member of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s public affairs committee, which sponsored the downtown gathering to discuss this November’s ballot. “Women are a powerful voting bloc and are just becoming more energetic every election.”

Since 2008, at least 52 percent of Colorado voters in even years have been women, according to voting records.

This year, there has been a pronounced effort to get even more of them engaged. Republican and Democratic campaigns alike have held events specifically for women. Groups such as Moms Demand Action have helped organize door-knocking for Democratic candidates. And women have been front and center in commercials for ballot initiatives.

Women are also running in high-profile races. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder selected Dianne Primavera, a breast cancer survivor and women’s health care advocate, as his running mate. Jena Griswold is the Democratic challenger for secretary of state. In the five most hotly contested state Senate races, all of the Democratic candidates and two of the Republican candidates are women.

Still, for as big of a role as women play in Colorado politics, the state has never had a female governor and only one woman, Denver Democrat Diana DeGette, represents the state in Congress.

“We aren’t going to be able to run incredible women at the top of the ticket unless we’re recruiting and training women at the bottom of the ticket,” said Micha Rosenoer, executive director of Emerge Colorado, a nonprofit political group that trains Democratic women to run for office. “Women are deciding races in Colorado, so we need to train them to run and win. We need candidates who look like the district they are running in and respond to the values of their districts.”

GOP taps into kitchen-table issues

Women in Colorado and across the nation this year appear more likely to support Democrats. In recent public polls, Polis’ lead in large part has been because of his support from women.

But you should meet Lisa Fertman. Fertman, an Arapahoe County Republican, was an early Donald Trump supporter and has been volunteering for the state Republican Party nonstop since the 2016 election.

On a mid-August evening, she was part of the first wave of “Women for Walker” events in which volunteers called voters across the state to encourage them to vote. That evening she broke a new record for phone calls to voters: 640 in just a couple of hours.

The No. 1 issue on voters’ minds, Fertman said, was immigration.

“We have to get that under control,” she said, adding she supports legal immigration and “loves all people,” but believes Stapleton, who ran on a pledge to end sanctuary cities, and other Republicans would do a better job on the issue.

Other issues — such as support for veterans and health care reform — are also weighing on her mind this year.

Her family’s premiums are “almost a house payment,” she said. “For a lot of people, it is a house payment. So we scrape and we suffer to make sure it’s paid.”

Sherrie Gibson, vice chairwoman for the Colorado GOP, said her party is focused on the women’s vote because Republicans know they will decide the election.

“We are the largest voting bloc across the board,” said Gibson, who lives in Colorado Springs. “We’re heads of companies, we’re volunteers, we’re moms. … We have a big presence.”

Gibson said Republicans will help deliver on key kitchen-table topics including jobs and transportation. And she isn’t worried about Trump’s dire approval ratings in the state he lost by 5 points.

“I personally met the president,” she said. “He’s never treated me with anything but respect. He’s very professional and cares about results.”

She added: “I feel confident we’re going to win, so you can put that in print.”

Volunteers makes phone calls in the hallway to prospective voters to get their vote for the upcoming gubernatorial election during a recent phone bank session at state Republican Party headquarters on Aug. 22, 2018, in Greenwood Village.

What women care about

When Colorado women vote this November, they’ll be deciding more than just who wins elected office. They’ll be weighing in on a number of public policy questions on the ballot.

To help women voters be more informed about the issues, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce held a forum at the Coors Taproom in downtown Denver to discuss some of the economic questions on the ballot. All but one of the people who argued for or against a ballot issue were women.

Among those in the audience was Nurta Mohamed, an Aurora Republican who wanted to know more about Amendment 73, which would raise taxes for schools, and Proposition 112, which would create new restrictions on oil and gas drilling.

“Education is vital to me,” she said. “It’s the future.”

She said she saw the election as a chance for women — coming off the #MeToo movement — to exert what’s important to them.

“Now more than ever, it’s important for women’s voices to be heard,” she said.

Mohamed added that she hopes Colorado elected officials take on criminal justice reform, especially around marijuana arrests.

“It’s embarrassing to see other states take major steps toward reform and we’re not even having the conversation,” she said.

Moríe Miller, a Broomfield Democrat who also attended the chamber’s event, said she hopes regardless of the outcome of the election, Colorado politicians can help heal some of the deep partisan divides she has observed since the 2016 election.

“I want them to care about families and people,” she said. “I don’t want politics to get in the way of how we live.”

Trump “helped us get motivated”

“Trick or treat,” yelled a boy running through Darien Wilson’s Highlands Ranch front door.

Women gathered on the living room floor laughed at the tot as they continued to organize campaign literature for a number of Democratic candidates, including Crow, the challenger in Mike Coffman’s ultra-competitive 6th Congressional District.

The group included Mary Parker, a Littleton resident, and her daughter, Jenny Guenther, who lives in Highlands Ranch.

For both women, who were among the tens of thousands who marched in Washington, D.C., during the first Women’s March in 2017, health care, education and gun control are among their top issues.

Parker said she’s old enough to remember when her school practiced safety drills during the Cold War. Now, her grandchildren are practicing active- shooter drills.

“Kids today, they know what’s happening,” she said. “And they’re experiencing trauma just from the drills.”

While Coloradans face a “flurry of candidates and issues on the ballot, there’s one figure not on the ballot who looms large: Trump. Guenther, like many of the women gathered at the Highlands Ranch home, said her newfound activism can largely be attributed to the president, whom they see as a threat to their rights.

“I feel like I’ve been sitting back and waiting for someone to do something,” Guenther said. “But then I realized I need to be part of the change. I hate to give Trump credit for anything, but he helped us get motivated.”