The message to Arapahoe County Democrats: Everything is riding on you. No pressure.

7 min. read
Sen. Michael Bennet. (Jeffrey Beall/Flickr)

Arapahoe County Democrats honored their most dedicated door-knockers and call-makers Saturday evening in Aurora with a simple message: Don't stop.

"We have 45 days left. You can sleep on Day 46," Sen. Michael Bennet told Democratic volunteers and organizers in one the nation's key swing counties.

"But between now and 45 days from now, you better make an extra call for Morgan Carroll, you better knock on an extra door for these great state senate and state house seats. ... We better not wake up on Day 46 and Donald J. Trump is president."

Rep. Ed Perlmutter played on President Barack Obama's "Don't boo -- vote!" exhortation to recalcitrant Bernie Sanders supporters at the convention.

"Don't worry -- work!" Perlmutter said at the Arapahoe County Democrats' annual dinner at the Radisson Hotel.

Presidential polls fluctuate on a weekly basis and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem to be within a few points of each other in Colorado, which was written off by many pundits as a sure thing for Democrats earlier in the summer. Amid the warnings against both complacency and despair, Carroll, the state senator who is looking to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman, shared some good news from internal polling.

"Things look great for us in Colorado 6," Carroll said. "This is the right time. This is the right year. We are up by five points. This is a Democratic year. This year being a Democrat is about more than being a Democrat. It is about whether or not we are embracing our humanity. It is about whether justice is for some or for all."

The message that Democrats are the protectors of traditional American values was sounded by nearly every speaker.

"E pluribus unum. Out of many, one," Bennet said, calling Arapahoe County a "microcosm" of the country and a place where diversity "shines." "That is the tradition that is reflected here tonight and in Arapahoe County. But there are radical politicians who want to strip us of that history, take us away from it. ... It is we who are standing up for traditional American values, not this radical view on the other side."

Bennet's campaign ads tend to focus on bipartisan achievements and compromises that benefit ordinary Coloradans, especially in rural areas, without mentioning his opponent, Republican Darryl Glenn. On Saturday, Bennet hit on Glenn's support for Trump and said Glenn would promote gridlock in pursuit of a more partisan agenda.

"My opponent won his primary ... by saying over and over that the problem with Republicans in Congress is that they were too collaborative, too conciliatory," he said.

Keynote speaker Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim member of Congress, supported Sanders in the primary and is now traveling the country as a Clinton surrogate. He knocked on doors with volunteers in the suburbs on Saturday and met with religious leaders in support of Clinton at a mosque in Denver Sunday morning.

"We are at a moment of national challenge. We are at a moral fork in the road," Ellison said.

Ellison stressed the stakes involved in this election, not only for the presidential election but for Congress and the Colorado General Assembly. Ellison noted that an estimated 25 percent of voters in Arapahoe County in 2012 voted only for president and not in any other race on the ballot.

"The whole ballot. Fill out the whole ballot. We have got to tell people. Top to bottom. Bottom to top," he said.

Democrats see turnout as the key to winning Colorado, where the demographics favor them and where lack of enthusiasm for Trump could depress voting on the other side. Getting people to also vote for down-ticket Democrats is essential to actually enacting the party's legislative agenda and plays a role in how districts are drawn, which in turn influences the make up of Congress.

It's this redistricting that also creates the opening for Carroll to challenge Coffman, though most analysts consider the district to lean red.

First citing a George Will column that called Coffman "A Republican worth voting for," Ellison tried to turn Coffman's moderation on immigration issues against him by painting him as someone without core principles, arguing that Coffman only became moderate after redistricting gave him more Latino voters to please.

"We are living in tough times," Ellison said. "The times we are living in are going to take people who don't change their views simply because their districts change. It's going to take moral leadership. It's going to take leaders who believe in something."

Carroll would have the strength of character to support gun control in the face of NRA opposition and money, Ellison said. This is a key issue for both state and national-level Democrats in Arapahoe County, which has suffered through both mass shootings and the ongoing toll of gang violence.

Ellison said the goal of campaign volunteers should be to overcome cynicism in the electorate. Their confidence and enthusiasm will be contagious, he said.

"If those Democrats in Arapahoe County think we can get something done, well, maybe we can get something done," he said of the shift volunteers need to encourage in voters.

Low voter turnout is the reason Democrats don't control Congress or more state houses and governorships, despite polls that consistently show high support for Democratic policies, Ellison said, and low voter turn out could serve up a victory for Trump.

Ellison said Democrats need to stop feeling bad about their candidate, who continues to have unusually high unfavorable ratings in most polls.

"We have got to stop this narrative where we are apologizing for our candidate. We have an awesome candidate," he said.

He ran through a host of issues that Clinton has supported -- gun control, raising the minimum wage to $15, unions, action on climate change, laying the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal -- and contrasted those with Trump's positions that we don't need stricter gun laws, that the minimum wage is too high, that climate change is a hoax, that the Iran deal should be tossed out.

"When somebody tells you they don't know the difference between the two, you tell them, 'You are (pregnant pause) mistaken,'" Ellison said. "Say it respectfully because we do not want to lose them! We need them! But be ready."

"You will note that a lot of people think Donald Trump is kind of a bad candidate, but they don't want to be scared into voting for Hillary Clinton," he said. "Don't be scared into voting for Hillary Clinton. Vote for her because she is an excellent candidate who stands up for your values.

Those values should be a good reason to vote for a Democrat, even if there are things that bother some voters about Clinton.

"What I will say to our friends who are not on board with Hillary Clinton as an excellent candidate is, 'Would you rather fight to hold Hillary Clinton to implementing that (Democratic Party) agenda or fight Donald Trump from implementing the Republican agenda?' Because since Leonard Fillmore, there has only been Republicans and Democrats as president. One of two people will win this election."

That's the case that Arapahoe County Democrats have to make between now and Election Day, and really, the clock starts ticking weeks earlier. Ballots are mailed to registered voters Oct. 17.

"So, Arapahoe County, no pressure," Bennet said. "Let's get it done."

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