Our View: County is best served when both parties are viable
November 13, 2012
Routt County voters are best served when they have choices and the two-party system helps to ensure that those choices are ever present.
One might assume, based on the results of the Nov. 6 election, that the two-party system in Routt County is on life support, if not already dead. On the surface, it seems the Democrats are in full control. President Barack Obama carried the county with 58 percent support, and every Democrat on the ballot won the county with at least 55 percent support. The legalization of marijuana, viewed largely as a liberal cause, got the support of 63 percent of county residents, including 69 percent in Steamboat Springs.
The general election numbers could lead some to the conclusion that the county simply has been overrun by pot-smoking, big-government liberals. How else to explain the complete political reversal of a decade ago, when the Republican Party largely controlled local politics?
We draw a different conclusion. After all, among active voters in Routt County, more people still identify themselves as Republicans (4,420) than Democrats (4,303). But it is the county's 5,456 unaffiliated voters where the Democrats truly are winning the day.
The bottom line this year is that Democrats did a much better job of asking for votes from independents than the Republicans. Democratic Party chairwoman Catherine Carson and her team were much more visible and active. Republican Party chairman Dave Moloney admitted as much after the election.
"The ground game is important, and as hard as we worked, they were more successful in getting people to the polls," Moloney said the day after the election. "We have to look at how we can better formulate our message to reach independent voters and the youth vote and women voters and drive home some of these conservative principles."
Republicans appeared to count too heavily on voters casting ballots against Democrats, from President Obama on down, rather than in favor of Republicans. Such a strategy puts anger before vision and message, and rarely works.
"When I started this process in June, I didn't realize just how much of an endangered species Republicans are in Routt County," said Jim "Moose" Barrows, who ran for county commissioner in District 1 and lost. "I think there are a lot of things we need to do as a party. We need to try and separate ourselves from the far right wing of the party (that) so many people identify Republicans with."
Barrows is right. Republicans may have the right answers on the economy, the deficit, government spending and taxes, but they have to do a better job of selling voters on their plans than they did in 2012. And if they aren't able to moderate the party's tone on social issues, they will have a hard time winning a seat on the Routt County Board of Commissioners, much less the presidency.
The good news is, the independents aren't going anywhere. They will make up the majority of voters in the next Routt County election and their votes again will be up for grabs. We hope Republicans learn from the experience of 2012 and re-engage for 2014 and beyond. We think that the public is best served when both parties field competitive candidates, engage in a rigorous debate of ideas and aggressively sell their message to voters.