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Thousands Of Republicans Leave Party After Capitol Riot

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the aftermath of the January 6 assault on Congress, thousands of Republicans have left their party. As Colorado Public Radio's Andrew Kenney explains, those voters have headed in very different directions.

ANDREW KENNEY, BYLINE: Lyle Darrah had been a Republican all his life. That changed soon after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

LYLE DARRAH: I was just completely shocked and shamed. You know, that's not who I think are Republican, who we were and who we are. And so, you know, there's something that I felt that I could no longer be a supporter of that party.

KENNEY: Darrah voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. Now he's a registered Democrat, and he jokes that he and his wife won't cancel each other's votes out anymore.

DARRAH: We've always teased each other - hey, give me your ballot. I'll go drop it off for you - wink, wink. And so now - you know, now we're a unified voting format.

KENNEY: According to voter registration data, he was one of about 4,600 people to quit the GOP in Colorado in the week after the riot. That's about seven times higher than the normal number of people who switch parties in a typical week. And it didn't happen for any other party. There's a similar story playing out in other states, too. But not all of those defectors are becoming Democrats. Some say the Republican Party hasn't done enough to support Trump and instead became unaffiliated voters.

SARA OCKER: We've all been living a lie and been told a lie.

KENNEY: Sara Ockero lives near Darrah in rural Weld County. She thinks GOP leaders betrayed Trump by partially blaming him for the violence and refusing to overturn the election.

OCKER: There's only one party in America, and it's a party that's not for Americans. It's for corporations and businesses and media moguls that think that they can silence our voices and our vote.

KENNEY: Now she's not sure if or when she'll vote again. In far western Colorado, Phil Trubia shared some of that skepticism.

PHIL TRUBIA: I'm going to be kind of looking at who's an establishment Republican and who's not.

KENNEY: He and his wife switched to the American Constitution Party. He used to be a straight-ticket GOP voter, but not anymore, he says.

TRUBIA: I do feel there is a split. Yeah, there could be.

KENNEY: Now, the overall number of party switchers is pretty small compared to the millions of voters here in Colorado. But it's an illustration of a big problem facing the GOP, says Ryan Winger of the Republican pollster Magellan Strategies.

RYAN WINGER: You know, no matter which fork in the road they choose, they're clearly going to lose what is currently a part of their coalition or what has been a part of the coalition.

KENNEY: And that's an especially fraught decision in Colorado. Over the past decade, the GOP has lost ground here and no longer holds any major statewide offices or majorities in the Statehouse. That change in the balance of power has some conservative voters looking for a new political home.

MARTIN LEE HUSSMAN: Honestly, I think the Republican Party is dead. I don't think there's going to be a Republican Party in the next couple of years.

KENNEY: That's Martin Lee Hussman. He's lived in the small, southern Colorado City of Alamosa all his life. We talked as he drove to a job for his plumbing business.

HUSSMAN: I'm pretty big in my community. It's a relatively small town. And I was born and raised here. I've been in a family business since I was born. And then I started my own company about 10 years or so ago.

KENNEY: That means people don't just know him. They know his politics, including the surprising change he just made.

HUSSMAN: And I got to tell you, man, vast majority of my friends are laughing at me when I switched over to Democrat.

KENNEY: Hussman voted for Trump in 2020. So...

HUSSMAN: They think I'm crazy.

KENNEY: With the GOP losing sway in Colorado, Hussman says becoming a Democrat is a way to change the party in power from within, but it won't stop him from voting for Republicans if he likes what they do. As for party affiliation, he's not that attached.

HUSSMAN: It's easy to switch back to something else if I don't like the way this is going.

KENNEY: For NPR News, I'm Andrew Kenney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.