Opinion

NOONAN | Democratic women voters blow the top off the state primaries

Author: Paula Noonan - July 11, 2018 - Updated: July 11, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Democratic women vote. Pay attention.  That’s the biggest message from the recent Colorado primary.

Democrats and Dem-leaning unaffiliated voters as a whole outvoted the GOP 56% to 44% by the numbers. Democratic women outvoted Democratic men 60% to 40%.  Democratic women outvoted GOP women 58% to 42%. Democratic women outvoted GOP men 56% to 44%.  It’s unprecedented.

Despite the huge turnout of Democratic women, Cary Kennedy, the leading woman candidate in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, lost by 20% to the winner, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. These results suggest that Democratic women are voting policy rather than gender.

Some Colorado political commentators opine that Polis is the most left-leaning candidate that Democrats could pick, and that some of his ideas are “socialist.”  If that’s the case, then a lot of Colorado women are apparently socialists.

Another explanation is more likely. Polis put up specific positions on issues that affect women’s daily lives in health and safety, time and money:  health care, child care, public education and energy development.  Based on his specific policies, Democratic women overwhelmingly selected the person whose positions most supported their needs, values, hopes and expectations. Their votes look pragmatic, not ideological.

Given the dominance of Democratic affiliated and unaffiliated women primary voters, both candidates for governor will have to make an appeal to their issues.  It’s hard to picture a path for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton that doesn’t address improving the quality and lowering the cost of health care and child care.

Polis argues for universal health care, all-day kindergarten, and support for child care. Democratic women may settle for less, but they’re not going to vote to shut down the Colorado health insurance exchange or reduce spending for child care as some Republicans advocate.

Women at every income level know that quality public education is key to economic security. While the teachers’ candidate, Kennedy, lost big, support for school vouchers is losing steam even in GOP-dominated Douglas County, where only half as many voters showed up for the primary as in Denver County. Charter schools didn’t fare too well in Denver, where pro-traditional public education candidates Emily Sirota and Robert Rodriguez came out ahead. Polis is a strong advocate for increasing dollars for public schools.

Young women want help with higher education and student loans. The burden of graduating with huge school loan debt on top of lower income than men is galling.  This problem stalls career goals and delays family creation. Polis advocates for more funding for public higher education.

The fracking issue along the northern Front Range may have done Kennedy in.  Returns from Front Range counties where fracking is an issue showed a higher percentage of Democrats voting for Polis than in counties, such as Jefferson, where fracking is not occurring. Polis will get lots of hits from the energy industry during the general election campaign, but this may be offset by women from both parties who object to oil and gas drilling near their homes and schools.

Much of the anti-fracking movement is led by women.  Oil and gas workers, mostly men, often show up at city councils, but moms out there really don’t like the environmental and health impacts on their kids of methane and benzene emissions near their backyards and playgrounds.

Women voters from both parties will be the most important cohort in the general election because there will be so many. How Polis leverages his advantages on the Democratic side or Stapleton navigates the challenge to broaden his appeal among women will tell the tale.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.