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Making news versus talking issues: What are Democrats doing this election cycle?

Democratic Chairman Shad Murib says party is refocusing efforts in rural counties
“When somebody says to go burn Pride flags, that is newsworthy. Me saying we need to invest in highway overpasses between low income communities and grocery stores is not exactly the headline grabber that I wish it was,” said Shad Murib, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, at The Durango Herald on Tuesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Shad Murib is far less interested in making headlines and more interested in building a war chest.

The chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party flies under the radar when compared to his Republican counterpart, Dave Williams. The defiant Colorado GOP chairman this week is facing a barrage of calls for his resignation after he sent a series of emails denouncing Pride Month and calling on people to burn the Pride flag.

But it’s a blessing and a curse of sorts, Murib says, not to have the same sort of newsworthy drama envelop the party.

Without alienating anyone – after all, about 48% of all active voters in the state are unaffiliated with a political party – Murib said sometimes it is necessary to fight fire with fire.

“I think we have to get a little bit more comfortable with it, because the far right is able to capture the media in ways that we’re not,” he said during a stop at The Durango Herald offices Tuesday. “When somebody says to go burn Pride flags, that is newsworthy. Me saying we need to invest in highway overpasses between low-income communities and grocery stores is not exactly the headline grabber that I wish it was.”

He is not against the controversial strategy deployed by Rocky Mountain Values, the dark money group that recently grabbed headlines for running an ad that boosted the profile of former state Rep. Ron Hanks, the far-right election denier running for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

The value, he said, is in making the extremist positions of candidates such as Hanks widely known in an effort to avoid the mistake Democrats made with Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was largely unknown before she was elected to Congress.

It’s a risk for Democrats to raise the profile of a Republican in a district where the number of GOP voters eclipses Democrats by 9%. But Murib said he has to believe that centrist independents and Republicans are weary of political sparring and would rather focus on communities.

“We missed Boebert, and she came from nowhere,” he said.

But with respect to the party’s spending, Murib wants to pour money into social media with the hope of reaching younger voters in rural communities.

People care about people, Murib insists, far more than they care about dry policy or even political labels. The party’s social media marketing will increasingly feature more “behind-the-scenes” style content.

And, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Democratic National Committee, Murib says the party is focusing on recruiting young voters on college campuses including Fort Lewis College.

On his tour of Western Colorado, Murib is launching an initiative called the Colorado County Comeback. The program consists of $3,000 grants intended to target local parties and candidates in battleground counties.

For too long, the party has focused resources on the Front Range, he said. The party’s supermajority in the Colorado House, firm control of the Senate and double-digit victories of Democratic candidates for statewide office in 2022 are testaments to those efforts.

“But it’s come at the cost of us really focusing and electing community-minded champions to rural seats across the state,” Murib said.

Now, the party is focusing its money and efforts in places like La Plata, Montezuma and Pueblo counties. Even races such as the 6th Senate District race, where Democrat Vivian Smotherman is challenging a moderate, well-respected incumbent Republican Sen. Cleave Simpson, are top priorities for the party.

Rural counties have not been spared from issues at the top of voters’ minds – the high cost of living chief among them, according to the 2024 Voter Voices survey, which asked local newspaper readers across the state about what mattered to them in the upcoming election cycle.

Murib says that connecting actual issues to people – not just spewing political fire – will be critical as the Democrats take on a fractured opponent composed of heritage conservatives and a strong extremist faction.

“I’m often either the only rancher in my Democratic circles or the only Democrat in my rancher circles,” Murib, who owns a ranch in Eagle County, said. “It turns out, we all agree climate change is real. It’s happening. We just have very different ways of how to talk about it.”


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