Review | The Blueprint: How the Democrats won Colorado by Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager

If you walk away with nothing from this book, it should be this: by using data, organization, and money,  political operatives are manipulating how voters think about their candidates with less than accurate information, and it is driving good candidates away from public service.

Without a doubt, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado”  is what it purports to be: a plan by Democratic strategists to use dirty tricks and manipulative strategies to successfully turn Republican leaning states over to Democrats.

And it works. In 2002, Colorado was one of the reddest of Republican states nationwide. Today, Democrats control the state House and Senate, both US Senate seats, the Governors mansion, and five of the seven Congressional seats. Further, as Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer argue, it’s a plan that is being exported to other states, and even being used nationally, to take down Republicans everywhere.

Even in Utah.

So what’s the secret? How do Democrats turn a conservative state into a left leaning Democratic stronghold? Tom Tancredo, former Republican Congressman, summed it up nicely:

It doesn’t matter if you are running for the state legislature or the president of the United States. Brilliant organization, unlimited resources, and the effective use of technology all in the hands of bright people who are driven more than just simple ideology create the most formidable campaign strategy imaginable.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Conceived by a cadre of a few multimillionaires and driven by a liberal social agenda, Colorado saw a few intelligent people bypass traditional political parties to orchestrate an ambush on Republican office holders. Before candidates or the Republican Party knew what was happening, they were defeated and out of office.  The state has yet to recover.

Using huge influxes of cash channeled through shadowy 527 non-profit organizations that were not required to list their contributors, Democrats collected data and targeted weak incumbents and soft voters, using traditionally conservative language to pitch Democratic policies and candidates. At a time when the cost to run a campaign for the state legislature was only $30,000 to $40,000, money that any “mom and pop” candidate could raise, Democratic strategist would flood voters with well over $500,000 dollars in campaign spending, overwhelming unprepared candidates.

Their method is to target vulnerable and marginally successful Republicans with vicious mailers and only marginally true television advertising. Republicans never saw it coming, and it wasn’t until almost six years later that they started to pick up on the sources and the methods of the Democratic operatives. The shadowy leadership avoided the usual channels of the Democratic Party, and thereby avoided any transparency or need to report campaign spending. They sent donations directly to candidates and non-profits categorized as 527s under the IRS tax code, thereby hiding the actual amount of money being spent to attack Republicans. Money was pooled from wealthy donors nationwide and targeted to only a few swing votes to turn elections in several states.

The flood of money overwhelmed Republicans, and shifted a state to away from its traditionally conservative politics and policies.

And the tools are available to anyone who will organize them and that is willing to raise and find the money.  It starts with shadowy lawsuits over feigned and trumped-up faults during redistricting.And you can bet there are strategists trying to do it in Utah, right now.

As I stated at the outset, the scary aspect of the book is the ability of these operatives, infusing enormous amounts of money, deft and witty campaign messaging (read: attack ads and mailers that smear candidates), and highly organized grassroots management, can, and are, winning elections, and  on the merits that have little to do with their candidates.

It happened in Colorado, a state that was once as red as Utah. Could it happen here?

Is it happening already?

[Previously published at]

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.