In recent weeks, voters in El Paso County have received text messages from a group called the “Welcome Party,” which is looking for “moderate problem-solvers in Colorado Springs to run for local office.”
Founded in 2019, the Welcome Party is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that supports the Democratic Party. “We want to welcome in moderate Republicans and independent voters who are maybe conservative-leaning, particularly, and they need to find a new home as MAGA-ism takes over the Republican Party,” explains Lauren Harper, co-founder of the Welcome Party. “We are welcoming in Republicans and independents who want to vote for Democrats.”
The Welcome Party also has its own political action committee, the Welcome PAC. “The welcome PAC is our super PAC, which was founded in 2021, which works to compete in conservative-leaning congressional districts across the country where we see that Trump underperformed,” says Harper. “A perfect example in your state is Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, where [U.S. Rep.] Lauren Boebert [R-CO] obviously is representing the district, but Trump got like 54 or 55% of the electorate. Adam Frisch, who ran last cycle as a Democrat was saying ‘Hi, like obviously, if Lauren Boebert is representing this district, but Trump only got this many votes of the electorate, it’s possible that there are Republicans who voted for Biden, who also voted for Lauren Boebert or didn’t vote for Lauren Boebert at all.’ We want to encourage voters who may be conservative-leaning to consider voting for the moderate Democratic candidate who’s running in that district.”
In the 2020 election, Colorado Springs — and Congressional District 5 — had one of the biggest swings away from Trump in the nation.
“The texts that you’ve been seeing have been in Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, where the [U.S. Rep. Doug] Lamborn [R-CO] is representing. We really wanted to say, ‘What can we do to get more people involved in civic engagement, what can we do to keep our people involved in voting processes, and even find some potential candidates to run for local office?’ We believe that, obviously, there may not be an opportunity to run a significant candidate in 2024 from our end, but if we can send texts to voters to see if they’re interested in running, see if they’re interested in supporting more common sense elected officials, then we can see, one, we can gain perspective, how are you guys thinking about it, but two, we could try to flesh out some potential candidates in the district.”
Sam Christiansen, president and executive team member of Colorado Springs’ Chinook Center, is one of the unaffiliated voters who recently received a text from the Welcome Party. The Chinook Center has been one of the more vocal progressive voices in Colorado Springs politics, advocating for a variety of reforms in policing, affordable housing policy, and labor issues. Christiansen doesn’t believe courting conservative-leaning voters is an effective strategy for Democrats in Colorado.
“I think it’s rooted in a discomfort that a lot of people have with disagreement in interpreting passionate positions, or sort of ideologically-grounded positions, with combativeness,” she says. “The reality is, this idea that you just kind of meet in the middle and then you’re making everyone happy doesn’t actually accomplish anything other than avoiding conflict. It’s basically just saying, ‘Yes, maybe we acknowledge that some things are wrong. Yes, maybe we acknowledge that some things are not wrong.’ We’re not going to do anything about them because we’re just going to take this middle position of riding the fence on everything, and that actually isn’t what we need as a sort of community or as a society.”
Colorado’s Democratic elected officials have consistently supported liberal positions on two of the most polarizing topics in American politics — abortion and LGBTQ rights — while maintaining all statewide offices and a strong majority in the legislature.
“In the Senate, there are 35 senators — 23 Democrats and 12 Republicans,” lamented Colorado Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa) during the Oct. 7 Ouray Lincoln Day Dinner. “We’re on a very slim margin. We’re one one seat away. If we as Republicans lose another seat in the Senate, it then gives both bodies, the House and the Senate, veto override power over the governor. If they pass this progressive liberal agenda and sometimes the governor doesn’t agree with some of those really progressive ideas, and if he would choose to veto one of those, the body could override his veto and it’ll become law.”
In El Paso County, long a Republican stronghold, progressive Rep. Stephanie Vigil (D-Colorado Springs) defeated moderate Republican Dave Donelson in the 2022 election, adding to the Democrats’ House majority.
“The local El Paso County Democrats have taken positions that are not always just the sort of middle avoidance position,” says Christiansen. “The Democrats have come out and are opposing [Ballot Measure] 2A, whereas it seems like a lot of organizations are kind of trying to just avoid that. And if you look at other races — Stephanie Vigil was was great. She didn’t run afraid of issues. She ran as a progressive candidate. I mean, John Jarrell ran as a progressive candidate [for El Paso County Commissioner], and even though he didn’t win, he did really well. It used to be that candidates felt like if they wanted to have any shot at winning in El Paso County, they were going to have to water down or move to the middle — that is not totally gone, I don’t want to overstate it — but I think that now what we’re seeing each election is that you can actually run on progressive values and progressive issues and people care about that and people will vote for you.”
Despite the progressive progress in the Colorado legislature, moderates remain a safe bet. Democrats like Rep. Marc Snyder (D-Manitou Springs) and Sen. Tony Exum (D-Colorado Springs) triumphed over their conservative opponents in 2022. In May, Colorado Springs voters shocked Colorado Republicans by electing independent Yemi Mobolade over Republican Wayne Williams.
“When it comes to people who identify explicitly as far left or super liberal or whatever term, they are only a fifth of the Democratic Party,” says Harper. “I’m not sure what the percentage is on the right these days because of things going on in the Republican Party that are very confusing. But a lot of America is in the middle, and in the middle, there’s so much nuance. … We’re saying you don’t have to be 100% on this purity test to be a Democrat because that is what is excluding far too many Americans from wanting to vote for Democrats these days. We see too much rhetoric from people who identify as far left or even Democratic Socialists, and not enough rhetoric and language from people who identify not even as moderate, but just as the New Dem caucus or Blue Dog Democrats, where you hear a lot of centrist Democrats who are saying, ‘I’m a regular person and I’m running in this swing district and I have to have a moderate view because that’s just one, who I am, and two, who my voters want.’ We want to invite more elected leaders into that space.”
Christiansen, and other progressives in El Paso County and Colorado, don’t see it that way. “People are not neutral on things,” says Christiansen. “They have an opinion and they don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’m just a moderate. I’m just a moderate.’ If you say, ‘Tell me about your economic stresses.’ They’re going to tell you about their economic stresses from an ideological position of where they’re coming from. I think that trying to remove the passion or relevance on a lot of these political issues is alienating to a lot of voters. I think that’s why they think it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because if you’re choosing between moderate A and moderate B, it doesn’t feel like what you’re voting for is that important. When we have actual choices between candidates that are different from each other, I think that’s more engaging and that actually pushes a better turnout and a better political engagement than these kind of milquetoast, middle-of-the-road positions that are kind of meaningless.”