Democratic candidates won over La Plata County voters this year, though support of President Barack Obama was more muted than four years ago.
La Plata County voters favored the president by a margin of 57 percent to 41 percent four years ago. This year, 53 percent of voters supported Obama and 44 percent of voters supported Mitt Romney.
Obama had the greatest support in Precinct 1, encompassing the South Side of Durango, where 80 percent of voters supported the president. Precinct 25 in the southeast corner of the county went the strongest for Romney, with 72 percent of voters favoring the Republican candidate.
Only one La Plata County precinct supported Obama in 2008 but favored Romney in 2012. Precinct 29 in the northern Animas Valley supported Obama 54 percent to 45 percent in 2008. In 2012, 47 percent of voters supported Obama and 51 percent supported Romney. No precinct that favored John McCain in 2008 went for Obama in 2012.
The county’s Democratic tilt in every other race, from county commissioner to state representative, reverses a rightward drift in 2010 and more closely mirrors how the county voted in 2008.
The county favored Democratic candidate Mike McLachlan for the state House of Representatives by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. McLachlan, of Durango, unseated incumbent Rep. J. Paul Brown, of Ignacio.
Sal Pace, candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives who was beaten by incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, won the county by a margin of 49 percent to 46 percent.
In 2008, the county also favored Democrats Mark Udall for Senate and John Salazar for the U.S. House of Representatives by even wider margins.
The county’s election of two Democratic county commissioner candidates was a departure from 2010 when Republican Bobby Lieb beat Democrat Bruce Baizel 47 percent to 44 percent.
Democrats with the Obama for America campaign and the county commissioner campaigns put a lot of focus on getting out the vote this year, said Denise Bohemier, chairwoman of the local Democratic party.
Though Michelle Obama’s visit to Fort Lewis College in October may not have changed voters’ minds, it did help generate excitement among the party’s base, Bohemier said.
“People are really discouraged that elections can be bought,” she said. “Michelle helped energize people.”
Velbeth Jones, chairwoman of La Plata County Republicans, said the party was not anticipating the wave of Democratic favor that swept the county.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a surprise,” Jones said. “Naturally, we’re going to take a look at what we’ve done, what we could have done better or what we could have done more of. We need to do some brainstorming and really figure it out.”
Despite visits by Paul Ryan and Michelle Obama and assertive get-out-the-vote campaigns by both parties, La Plata County voters didn’t turn out in the same numbers as 2010 and 2008.
A total of 71 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in this year’s election, compared with 73 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 2008.
The way voters cast their ballots changed from four years ago.
This year, 22 percent of voters went to their polling place on Election Day compared to 27 percent four years ago. Instead, more people voted early or mailed in their ballots this year. Three-quarters of people who voted mailed in their ballots or voted early, compared with 71 percent of voters in 2008.
Precinct 5, on the west side of Durango, had the highest proportion of mail-in voters, with 54 percent of voters mailing in their ballots.
La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker said 2008 was the first year people could sign up to be permanent mail-in voters. More people have opted for it, she said.
“It is a more convenient method of voting,” she said.