Politics

How Bob Marshall Pulled Off the 2022 Colorado Election's Biggest Upset

Robert "Bob" Marshall beat the odds by becoming the new representative for House District 43.
Robert "Bob" Marshall beat the odds by becoming the new representative for House District 43. Courtesy of Robert "Bob" Marshall
After being nominated to represent the Democratic Party in the race for House District 43, Robert "Bob" Marshall was confident. "I never doubted that we would lose," he recalls.

Marshall grew more positive quickly, however. And although the final results have not been certified, the counting is over and the latest figures from the Colorado Secretary of State reveal that he collected 405 more votes than did Kurt Huffman, the Republican incumbent. (Huffman had been tapped in June to fill a seat previously occupied by Representative Kevin Van Winkle, who'd been appointed to the state Senate.) With a final vote tally of 22,877 to 22,472, that works out to a 50.45 to 49.55 percent advantage for Marshall, which is beyond the 0.5 percent margin that would trigger an automatic recount — and last week, Huffman conceded.

Those results make Marshall arguably the biggest upset winner of Colorado's 2022 election — and that conclusion is underscored by another set of numbers. House District 43, which is located in Douglas County and encompasses most of Highlands Ranch, has been solidly conservative for as long as anyone can remember, and Marshall points out that "only 22 percent of registered voters in my district are Democrats." Indeed, the secretary of state's most recent statistics count 14,261 Democrats to 20,234 Republicans and 29,358 independents.

How the hell did Marshall do it? He attributes much of his success to name recognition, and he's certainly gotten plenty of attention in 2022, albeit for reasons other than his election bid. Earlier this year, Marshall, an attorney, sued four Board of Education members with Douglas County Public Schools for allegedly violating Colorado open-meetings law by the way they maneuvered the February firing of superintendent Corey Wise. Marshall's complaint led to the imposition of a preliminary injunction that the board fought with several futile court actions that racked up expensive legal fees beyond the $247,500 it cost to pay off Wise's contract.

These actions didn't help the board's advocacy on behalf of a $450 million bond issue to address capital needs and a $60 million mill levy override intended to help compensate for student-funding gaps. While Douglas County voters had backed additional school funding items in 2018, both of the 2022 measures fell short. Marshall, who actually supported the proposals despite his beefs with the board (he even donated to the campaign), believes that the earlier controversies were a big factor in their defeat. Members Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar "were promising to bring 'boring' back to school board meetings, and they did just the opposite," he says.

Still, Marshall thinks that the notoriety he gained with the school board battle was only one reason why he became well known in District 43 — and the other factors had more to do with moxie than courtroom matters.
click to enlarge
A photo of the banner on Robert "Bob" Marshall's campaign vehicle, a World War II-era Jeep.
Courtesy of Robert "Bob" Marshall
A retired Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Marshall believes strongly that the American flag is a symbol of patriotism, not the Republican Party, as he's been demonstrating for years. "I had been known during the 2020 campaign for my crosswalk campaigning for Biden with a large American flag and Biden sign. So I did it for our own campaign, too," he says. "It made an impression on many based on feedback, as people thought I was 'always' out there and said the dedication really impressed them. The GOP came out to the main intersection at Highlands Ranch Parkway and Broadway at the start of a snowstorm in October, but left early because of the blizzard conditions. I was at another intersection doing my thing, but knew they would leave and went to finish up at that intersection in the snow. A supporter sent a text she received from an acquaintance who told her she saw the guy who marches the intersection out in the snowstorm campaigning for Bob Marshall and how incredible that was and how much she admired that guy. So it was a big help when the supporter could text her back and tell her that is Bob Marshall."

He was also able to play up both his military background and his love of the red, white and blue by way of "this old World War II Jeep I have that's got a demilitarized 50-caliber machine gun mounted on it," Marshall says. "I had no idea how great a campaign vehicle it would be."

Before going retro, Marshall divulges, "I'd gotten a van I'd tricked out with a wrap and a loudspeaker, like the Blues Brothers, but it turned out to be a waste of money; I'd drive by, and people would think I was a plumber or an electrician. But when they saw the Jeep, their eyes would snap up and look at the sign," which has his name and website address superimposed over an illustration of a flag. "It became a huge deal. My canvassers would tell me they'd knock on a door and people would say, 'Is that the guy with the Jeep?' It was a big game-changer."

So, too, was his decision to pay a pilot to display his banners over Highlands Ranch. "It's a very compact district, so they were able to fly over it for a sustained hour and a half on Sunday morning," he recalls. "That got a lot of looks. So I had people who wanted to vote for me because I had a cool Jeep with a machine gun on it, and because they liked the airplane with my banner on it."

Another campaign idea that apparently worked out, he says, was his decision to cut a brief commercial and pay for it to run on Fox News: "I said, 'I'm a Truman Democrat. I don't like communists, I don't like fascists. I'm for public safety, public education and the environment. Please check my website.' It was only fifteen seconds long, but I bought time from seven to midnight — which I figured would probably mean it'd only run after eleven. But it turned out they put it on Hannity."

Marshall got proof of the spot's effectiveness when "I visited my VFW post on a Friday. They're all old Fox News-watching guys there, and they'd all seen the commercial and were so excited. That let me know I'd done the right thing by going after their votes. I didn't change anything about me. I just said what I stand for and that I'm a pro-American guy, and they loved it."

Here's the commercial:
As these efforts were creating momentum he could feel, Marshall suffered a setback: He contracted COVID-19, which prevented him from campaigning for ten days, beginning on October 20. "I couldn't even talk on the phone," he says. "I sounded like I was on my deathbed." In the meantime, Huffman was "really busting his ass, working as hard as heck. His work ethic was incredible. That's the only time I was really worried."

The narrow lead Marshall held on the morning after Election Day has held up since then, though, and he's frustrated that the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder hasn't called the contest. But spokesperson Wendy Manitta Holmes stresses that Marshall isn't being singled out. "The process of finalizing all election results is underway, as required by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office," she explains. Following a "risk-limiting audit" on November 21, the county canvass board will meet on November 28, with the deadline to submit the official abstract of votes two days later, on November 30.  Holmes notes that "all election results are unofficial until the meeting of the Board of Canvass, at which time this board fulfills its statutory role — all counties in the state of Colorado do the same — and submit official results to the secretary of state."

In the meantime, Marshall, who resigned from a remote position with the Internal Revenue Service on April 15 in order to run, is planning to devote himself entirely to his new gig once it starts. "To me, it's a full-time job being a legislator," he says. "We'll see how it works out."

It's worked out pretty damn well so far.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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