Colorado is the electoral contest in 2014 that most confounded my expectations. The United States is a diverse country, and the political issues and social attitudes that influence elections in different states can be hard for outsiders to understand. Colorado, though, is a state that I thought I understood. I grew up in Oregon and Washington, states that share common demographics with Colorado, and so I predicted that Colorado would vote the way that those states would.
Colorado is a western state with one large metropolitan area, and with many educated, affluent voters. Whereas the pattern in the Eastern part of the country is that the Democratic Party often relies on the support of minority communities, while wealthy suburbanites support the Republican Party, the western states have less of a racial voting pattern, and the college-educated and affluent tend to be liberal. Based on these demographics, I thought that it would be hard to upset an incumbent senator.
Mark Udall, the incumbent, had first won election in 2008. He came from a large political family, with his cousin Tom Udall currently serving as the Senator from New Mexico. His opponent, Cory Gardner, was the representative for Colorado's 4th District, which includes both the eastern suburbs of Denver as well as the entire eastern half of the state. I am sure that issues and personalities played a part in the electoral decision, but what does this race say about the demographics of Colorado? At the end of the night, Gardner had won 48.5%-46%, which turned out to be a gross margin of a little under 50,000 votes. Udall won the City of Denver by 45% percentage points, and also won by a large margin in Boulder County. He managed to get slight pluralities in some of Denver's suburban counties, but lost others, and also heavily lost the conservative region of Colorado Springs. So, this election was won by Cory Gardner because he could carry a large enough margin in Denver's affluent suburbs to offset the large margin Udall got in Denver itself.
Of course, demographics aren't always destiny in politics. Being that this was a midterm election in a year unfavorable to Democrats, it is hard to say what Colorado's "true" political leanings are. However, this result means that Colorado will probably be a political battleground for both parties, both in presidential and congressional elections, for some time to come.