One key difference between then and now, Titone says, is that the historic wave of politicians elected to office in recent years, which includes Virginia’s Danica Roem, were elected in off-years in which turnout is low. In 2020, forecasts predict the highest turnout in decades, with 99 million ballots cast nationally and up to 60 million more votes still expected.
Titone believes her race is a major test of whether historic candidates can repeat their successes in races like Colorado’s, which she says is “expecting 80% to 90% turnout this year.”
“It makes it really tough because we have to reach people that we’ve never talked to before and we have to make sure that they’re voting for me,” she says. “As much as we feel good about how things are going to turn out, there’s still the unknown of that additional 10,000 voters that we don’t know anything about.”
But LGBTQ+ advocacy groups remain optimistic about her chances after her 2018 upset in a race which Titone says many people told her was “impossible.” Michael Crews, policy director for One Colorado, says that the organization is seeing 76% to 77% turnout from its members and supporters across the state, which could help decide nail-biter elections like Titone’s.
“These numbers have just been climbing throughout the week,” Cruz tells them. “Most campaigns and organizations that are involved in this work had to reimagine how to get people out to vote. One thing that was helpful is the fact that there’s this recognition of what it means to vote for equality in such an important election year.”
Getting Titone reelected is a major priority for advocacy organizations after the first-term lawmaker was critical in helping to pass a bill criminalizing the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, in which defendants seek a lighter sentence by claiming the violence was justified by learning the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one lawmaker in either house in the Colorado General Assembly voted against the bill, on which Titone served as the prime sponsor.
Sean Meloy, political director at the pro-LGBTQ+ PAC Victory Fund, tells them. that the attention that conservatives are paying to Titone’s race is a kind of backhanded compliment. It’s proof that she was underestimated in 2018, he says, and her opponents won’t make that same mistake again.
“We continue to see women, queer women, and then trans women on top of that, being highly underestimated,” says Meloy, whose organization has endorsed Titone. “They’re not seen as a threat. I also think that to a degree this is desperation. Polls show that voters are turning away from the president, his rhetoric, and the hatred that it engenders and they can’t help but grasp at straws.”
It remains to be seen if Titone can make magic happen again, as it could be days, if not weeks, before all ballots are counted amid a pandemic which has created greater uncertainty around the election. But all available evidence shows the transphobic hit job largely backfired. In the day and a half after the ads began receiving national attention, she received an influx of contributions from donors across the country: $11,000, a tidy sum for a state House race.
Her victory would be a major achievement for the LGBTQ+ community in a year which has seen unprecedented attacks against out candidates like Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas, Jon Hoadley in Michigan, and Alex Morse in Massachusetts. It would also be further proof that Colorado, which elected the country’s first gay male governor in 2018, has come a long way since it was known as the “Hate State” in the 1990s.
But for Titone, she says a win would prove that “it’s not about identity when it comes to this kind of work, but how you do the job.”
“It’s not about people voting for me because I’m trans and they just want to give me a chance,” she says. “They want to give me a chance to do the work, and I’m delivering on that work. That’s what this is really about. It’s proof that trans people can be successful in what we do, no matter what the position is.”
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