Red in the Face from the Purple State Blues

October in Colorado is such an odd time. The golden forests shimmer against a bright blue sky. The temperature feels like it must be set by the state tourism bureau. And yet, the anger of election season is inescapable. The ads are not just on the television and radio anymore. They’re littering Facebook, popping up in front of YouTube clips, even interrupting Internet radio.

Such is life in a purple state, one of the few places in the country where liberals and conservatives live in roughly equal numbers. Just as Colorado was a battleground state for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, we are a battleground this year for his signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Voters in 34 states are choosing senators this year. The outcome is in doubt in only eight or 10 of those states. And Colorado is one of the few competitive states where health care, and especially the ACA, are major issues in the campaign. Our new analysis, Healthy Competition 2014, delves into the role of health policy in the campaign between incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner. The paper also profiles unaffiliated candidate Steve Shogan, a Denver neurosurgeon who brings health policy ideas that inspire delight and derision from across the political spectrum.

Udall is a proud defender of the ACA, although he admits it can be improved. Gardner is a harsh opponent of the law. In fact, he has co-sponsored far more bills to roll back the ACA than any other health topic during his four years in Congress. The result is a national proxy war over the ACA, playing out on our radios and computer screens.

This report marks the first Colorado Health Institute analysis of a political race. As Colorado’s premier nonpartisan health policy research institute, we used our expertise to look at the race through a health policy framework.

Colorado has been a political petri dish lately. That means it can get a little slimy, sometimes. It also means Colorado voters wield more influence than most Americans, even those from much larger states. 

Joe is Manager of Public Policy Outreach at CHI.