It’s the final week of a long election season, and one thing local party leaders agree on is this year’s races are too close to call.
Residents attending watch parties for the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump already had their mind made up about the candidates. As they watched the 90-minute show, they saw the candidates drop all illusions of congeniality. The contenders refused to shake hands, and took aim at each other’s pasts and personalities.
These groups are the base of local parties, and while their votes are needed to support their candidates, this year’s local issues will come down to the large contingent of unaffiliated swing voters.
“It’s been the most bizarre election imaginable,” said Howard Wallach, chair of the Pitkin County Democrats.
“Democrats and Republicans seem to be pretty fixed in their opinions, and for the most part unaffiliateds have set their opinions as well," he said. "But if there are just a few people who get disgusted and decide not to vote, it might tip an election that could come down to a few hundred votes.”
Wallach sees the congressional race between incumbent Scott Tipton and Democrat Gail Schwartz as one that will come down to how unaffiliated voters mark their boxes this election.
Bob Jenkins, chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, also has his eye on a statewide race, the senate battle between incumbent Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Darryl Glenn.
"Are the rest of the people in the state gonna back him? Who knows. The unaffiliateds certainly have the capability to win that election if they back Darryl Glenn,” Jenkins said. “So that’s a real interesting race that reflects what we’re talking about.”
What we are talking about, said Jenkins, is decades worth of far-right and far-left candidates widening a gap in political rhetoric. And, he said, the results of this race will last for several more decades.
“But unfortunately the other thing that has been coming on, and why I say this election is 20 years in the making, is the middle class of America has gotten poorer,” Jenkins said. “So the people looking at the election today are saying ‘well, I guess I’ve done okay, but will my kids have as good an opportunity in the future as I had?’”
Neither party leader felt confident making predictions about local, state, or the presidential race, because here in the valley - where Pitkin County tends to swing left and Garfield County tends to swing right - it really will come down to those split-ticket voters who may have yet to make up their minds.
One thing is sure, this time next week it will all be over. When asked how they were going to feel on Nov. 9, Jenkins and Wallach both just laughed.