Year in review #7: GOP makes visible push in the valley

Aspen Daily News Staff Report
For a while, it looked like this presidential election year was going to be the year of the Republican in Aspen.

A well-organized and passionate local GOP mounted a more visible, stronger campaign than we’d seen in recent memory in this Democratic stronghold.

While the Republicans made a lot of news here this year, they came up short in the only tally that matters in democracy: votes. On Election Day, President Barack Obama defeated challenger Mitt Romney by a 2-1 margin in Pitkin County. The incumbent did lose about 7 percent of his support from 2008, when he took nearly 74 percent of the Pitkin County vote.

Back in February, the county’s Republican caucuses drew a record turnout of 161 voters, kicking off a spirited campaign season from local conservatives. Romney won Pitkin County, while former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum won the rest of the state, riding a surge of support that petered out nationally and was surpassed by Romney come summertime.

“We have one goal,” county party chair Frieda Wallison told party members at the caucuses in Aspen High School, “and that is to make President Obama a one-term president.”

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Mitt Romney presses the flesh after delivering his stump speech to the crowd at the Basalt High School in August. This election year saw a well-organized push by Republicans to increase their local profile, but the results on Nov. 6 made clear that Pitkin County is still Democrat territory.

Romney held a rally in Basalt in August and a fundraiser in Aspen in July. The Basalt High rally brought an overflow crowd into the gymnasium and the national campaign spotlight on the Roaring Fork Valley for a day. The fundraiser, at the local home of Susan Crown and William Kunkler, meanwhile, brought in a reported $2.5 million for Romney.

The local GOP brought one of the national party’s biggest stars, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to town for a fundraiser as well. In the same week, Walker and Republican governors Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell addressed the public at the Aspen Institute, as part of the annual Republican governors conference there.

Democrats, meanwhile, saw no campaign stop in the valley from Obama or many from national Democratic leaders.

In August, the Republicans set up their Pitkin County headquarters in an old Victorian home at the S-curves — the former home of Poppies Bistro — putting the conservative boosters in one of the most visible locales in the valley. While the location offered lots of eye traffic on GOP candidate signs, it also made it an easy target. The headquarters was egged at least three times, reportedly by local middle school students.

Wallison was selected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Her Democratic counterpart, Blanca O’Leary, also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

— Andrew Travers