By Beth Dodd:
As you could tell from the inescapable deluge of political ads, Colorado was a key swing state in the 2012 presidential election. In the 35 presidential elections held since we became a state in 1876, Colorado has switched parties 13 times.
For example, in 2008 Colorado favored Barack Obama by a margin of 9%, choosing a democrat for the first time in 16 years. (Although in Teller County, John McCain won by 29%). However, four years earlier in 2004, Colorado had favored republican George Bush by an even thinner lead of just 5%.
Colorado often follows the nation in its presidential choices, picking the winner 70% of the time, and voting for the loser only ten times in 132 years. The state leans republican most often, with 22 republicans, 11 democrats, and 1 populist winning our approval over the years. Steady population growth has expanded Colorado’s political clout over time. In 1876, we had three electoral votes. By 1912, we had doubled to six votes. We increased to nine votes in 2004. Colorado has nine electoral votes up for grabs in 2012.
Colorado made a splash in presidential politics right from the start. We were granted statehood in 1876 just in time to vote in one of the closest elections in history between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote by 3%, but Hayes won the presidency by one electoral vote. Colorado’s 3 electoral votes for Hayes tipped the election in favor of the republican.
Colorado voted republican for its first 16 years, sending James Garfield to the White House in 1880. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau in July 1881 and died in September 1881. His term was completed by his vice president, Chester Arthur, who resigned without running for another term.
In 1884, the state of Colorado backed a losing candidate for the first time when they voted for republican James Blaine, who lost to democrat Grover Cleveland. Republican Benjamin Harrison then defeated Cleveland with Colorado’s help in 1888.
In the bizarre election of 1892, these two incumbent presidents faced off – Harrison who was president in 1888, and Cleveland who had been elected in 1884. Colorado had voted for Harrison in ’88, but rejected him to vote for populist candidate James Weaver in ‘92. Cleveland beat them both and was the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.
In both 1896 and 1900, democrat William Jennings Bryan squared off against republican William McKinley. McKinley won the presidency both times much to the dismay of Colorado, which voted for Bryan twice.
In 1901, McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz and died of infection two weeks later. His vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, became the youngest president in history. Roosevelt won the 1904 election with Colorado’s support, with the state voting republican for the first time since 1888.
The election of 1908 was a contest between Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, republican William Taft, and William Jennings Bryan, the old democratic lion who was making his third and final try for the White House. Once more Colorado voted for Bryan, who lost to Taft in spite of the state’s support.
In 1912 Colorado won with democrat Woodrow Wilson, who came back for a second term in 1916. But in 1920, Colorado switched parties again to vote for a series of successful republicans. They backed Warren Harding in 1920. Harding died of a heart attack in 1923, and Calvin Coolidge finished his term and was re-elected with Colorado’s support in 1924. Colorado backed Herbert Hoover in 1928.
The country plunged into the Great Depression in 1929, and President Hoover lost in 1932 to democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt, our longest serving president, was re-elected in ‘36, ‘40, and ‘44. He died from a stroke just weeks before the end of World War II in 1945. Colorado voted for him the first two times, but was ready for a change by 1940. They voted for republicans Wendell Willke in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944.
Roosevelt’s fourth term was finished by his vice president, democrat Harry Truman, who was elected to a second term with Colorado’s approval in 1948. Colorado did another flip when we “liked Ike” in 1952 and ’56, and voted for republican war hero Dwight Eisenhower.
In 1960, Colorado voted for republican Richard Nixon, but he lost to the democrat’s young star, John F. Kennedy. Tragedy stuck the presidency again when Kennedy was killed in 1963. His vice president Lyndon B. Johnson was quickly sworn into office. Colorado invited Johnson to serve another four years in 1964.
Colorado supported Nixon once more in his successful bid for the presidency in 1968. His first term was very successful and he won re-election against George McGovern in one of the biggest landslides ever in 1972, winning every state except Massachusetts. Nixon resigned from the presidency in August 1974 following the Watergate scandal. His vice president, Spiro Agnew had already resigned in October of 1973. House minority leader Gerald Ford was elevated to vice president and then president.
Colorado voted for Ford in 1976, but he lost to one-term democratic president Jimmy Carter. Colorado backed mostly winners after that, voting for Ronald Regan twice, then George Bush and Bill Clinton. The state went with Bob Dole in 1996, but Clinton was invited back for a second term by the rest of the nation. Finally, George Bush the younger was selected by Colorado for two terms in 2000 and 2004. Then we helped to elect Barack Obama in 2008.