Colorado 3rd District
On a clear night from the air, they look like tiny mottled veins, thickest near Denver. These are the lights of the civilization Americans have built on the Western Slope of the Rockies in Colorado. The lights follow the trails of valley roads and mountainside switchbacks. The nodes mark the dozens of little towns built during mining boom years: the gold rush of the 1870s, the uranium boom of the 1950s, and the oil-shale boomlet of the 1970s. The Western Slope—everything west of the Front Range, with dozens of peaks over 14,000 feet—has always blocked east-west movement. Except for mining and skiing, few would have followed the Ute Indians and settled here. The miners who tracked gold and silver and lead ores also built Victorian towns with opera houses and gingerbread storefronts in Aspen and Telluride, in valleys and defiles scarcely accessible to the outside world. Now many of these towns have been restored by ski-resort operators and joined by dozens of new condominiums and shopping malls. Cries of overdevelopment have followed. Amid the tourism, some resource development continues, of gas deposits trapped beneath the Roan Plateau. More than half of the area’s iconic aspen trees have died in recent years due to fire or natural causes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The political map of the Western Slope is as diverse as its history. Aspen and Telluride are liberal and Democratic. The former coal-mining center of Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs, today sporting contemporary condominiums and ski lodges, were formerly Republican, but are now Democratic as well. Durango, an old frontier town, has moved in the same direction. Republicans still have a voter-registration edge in surrounding La Plata County. Some areas are still heavily Republican and hostile to environmentalists and others of the liberal ilk: the rough-handed mining area around Grand Junction, where piles of tailings still crackle with radioactivity; Glenwood Springs, with its old hot-springs hotel once visited by President Taft; and the northwest corner of the state, where people remember the oil shale boom with nostalgia. Generally on the Western Slope, the high-income areas, with lots of liberal-minded trust-funders opposed to new oil and gas drilling, are the most Democratic, while modest-income, working-class towns are the most Republican.
The 3rd Congressional District of Colorado is the state’s largest—roughly the size of Arkansas—and includes most of the Western Slope. It extends east of the Front Range to include the small industrial city of Pueblo. There, on the banks of the Arkansas River, the Rockefellers built large steel factories before World War I to make barbed wire and rails. Now this blue-collar town has attracted large medical centers and some industrial plants. Pueblo is heavily Democratic, and so are the counties on the plains and in the San Luis Valley to the south. These inhabitants are Hispanic, not Mexican-American: Spanish-speaking people have been living here, as in northern New Mexico, for 350 years. The 3rd District voted for Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, for Republican Bob Dole in 1996 and for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, John McCain took 15 counties and Barack Obama won 14 counties here. The two largest counties are resource-heavy Mesa, which McCain took 64%-34%, and Pueblo, which Obama won 56%-42%. On balance, it is a Republican district, but it can be unpredictable. Republican John McCain won the district, 50%-48%.