(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Colorado Springs has seen extraordinary population growth over the last 50 years, establishing itself as a strong urban hub for Southern Colorado. Now 152 years old, state data shows Colorado Springs continues to hold a conservative base with Republicans outnumbering Democrats nearly two-to-one.

FOX21 News is your local election headquarters and ahead of the May 16 Mayoral election, two candidates with considerable differences share their outlook on municipal elections. As community members prepare to swear in the City’s 42nd Mayor, the question becomes: Will the conservative base remain as Colorado Springs continues to grow?

Path to become mayor of Colorado Springs graphic for May 16 Election
Courtesy: FOX21 Anchor/Reporter Austin Sack

Early projections show, by 2050 Colorado Springs is set to surpass Denver as the state’s most populated city. With this growth, the socio-political demographics of Colorado Springs have kept University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) Professor Josh Dunn busy.

“Because the Republican Party has been so dominant in El Paso County, in Colorado Springs, it’s been difficult for unaffiliated or Democratic candidates to get a lot of traction,” Dunn explains. “However if you just look at our voter registration, we have a lot of unaffiliated voters.”

Here are the numbers; Close to 500,000 people call Colorado Springs home, and there are around 312,000 registered voters. In total, Colorado Springs has 90,870 Republicans, 62,041 Democrats, and 151,992 Unaffiliated.

“It’s probably more plausible now than it ever has been for someone who’s unaffiliated to actually win a citywide election,” Dunn said.

Dunn enjoys diving into the political landscape of Colorado Springs, he moved to the city from Virginia in 2004 for his teaching position at UCCS. He says while the growth of Colorado Springs diluted or reduced some of the conservative strength in the city, “It’s still a conservative place.”

Next up on the calendar for Colorado Springs is the May 16 Mayoral runoff election. This is a nonpartisan race, but many voters look to the candidate’s political affiliation before casting a vote.

“Folks know there is one conservative choice for Mayor of Colorado Springs and that’s Wayne Williams,” said Wayne Williams, candidate for Colorado Springs Mayor. While political newcomer Yemi Mobolade is taking a different approach, “I’m Unaffiliated. I’m one of 48% of Colorado Springs residents who have chosen to be ‘U’ or independent.” said Yemi Mobolade, candidate for Colorado Springs Mayor.

Both candidates’ campaign efforts certainly increased after the April 4 election, but their messages stayed the same.

“I believe that when you talk about where someone’s going to take our City, where they’re going to lead, you look at what they’ve done before,” Williams explains. “That’s why my opponent’s refusal to answer questions from the press about how he voted indicates an uncertainty, an unwillingness to be honest and forthright with the people of Colorado Springs. I believe that my track record demonstrates where I will continue to lead the City going forward and seeking innovative solutions.”

While Mobolade has continued to run his campaign with a focus on bringing a new voice to city government.

“I’ve been clear that I will be a mayor for all people,” Moboloade said. “I am running a campaign, as I would the mayor of this city. “There’s a lot of promise that is made in the world of campaigning, as I’ve seen, both as a resident observant and as a future mayor and current candidate, but being able to know that this is more than just promises, look at who we are as leaders today, that’s what you’re going to get.”

Whoever hopes to take home the title come May 16, must acquire more than 57,000 votes. Mobolade won more than 32,000 votes in the April 4 election and Williams won nearly 21,000.

“The biggest thing that we’ll have to look at is population growth, and that’s going to be a central question in this mayoral runoff, ” Dunn explains. “There are some people who would like Colorado Springs to not grow as quickly as it has grown. But then if you slow that growth, that means housing prices will increase. There’s no way of getting around that, as long as there is still a demand to move into the city.”

Becoming mayor of a growing city has its perks, but are the candidates ready to take on the challenge?

“Government’s role is to set standards and make sure that developers meet those standards, ” Williams explains. “We’ve done that by actually increasing the requirements both in a new water fee, a new public safety fee, and increasing the parks fee.”

While Mobolade believes it’s time for something new. “Do we trust our government is going to be making the right decisions for our residents as we grow?” Mobolade explains. “Growth is on everyone’s mind. I’ve heard that from so many residents across the city asking, ‘Are we growing too fast?’ and the other question related to that is ‘Do we have the infrastructure to keep up with the growth of our city?’ these are great questions and questions that I’m asking. The heart of that question is, are you ready? Do we trust our government is going to be making the right decisions for our residents as we grow?”

The fact that Colorado Springs ranked number two in the Nation from U.S. News and World Report on ‘Best Places to Live’ might cause a rush to the city, but when did it start? That’s what Matt Mayberry, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Director has a passion for.

“I will say that we are a desirable place to live and I always equate that back to the original vision statement that General Palmer created when he founded Colorado Springs in 1871, Mayberry said. “His goal was to make Colorado Springs the best place in the West to build a home.”

Well according to General Palmer, the city’s growing pains rapidly took off around 1880 after the population went from around 40 to 50 people to more than 4,000, and it hasn’t stopped since.

“Part of the reason that many people move here is because of its conservative reputation, whereas other people moving to Colorado might choose somewhere up in Denver,” Dunn stated.

Professor Dunn said the first thing you have to confront whenever you talk politics in Colorado Springs is the reputation of the city.

“The reputation of Colorado Springs for a long time has been that this is kind of an incipient theocracy, that there are so many social conservatives and particularly evangelicals here that they run city politics and control politics in Colorado Springs and El Paso County and that’s just not the case,” Dunn explained.

Professor Dunn studied the percentage of people who are affiliated with religion in Colorado Springs and also frequently attend church.

“It’s very low and actually lower than a lot of other places around the country,” Dunn said. “There are some surveys that showed us lower than Denver, than San Francisco, Las Vegas. Colorado Springs is certainly a very conservative place, but conservatism is more complex than sometimes people will recognize.”

Everyone comes to Colorado Springs for one reason or another, but if history tells you anything one factor is the overwhelming political position of the city.

“You will have some changes as a city continues to grow, but I think ultimately Colorado Springs will continue to be more conservative than other major cities in the country,” Williams said. On the other side of the political aisle, “The question’s around political affiliation, the real heart of those questions are values,” Mobolade explained. “When I became a citizen I became a ‘U’ right away, I’m not switching political parties, I’ve always been who I have been from day one,” Mobolade said.

Since the April 4 election, Mobolade increased his momentum with two high-profile endorsements including Sallie Clark and former Colorado Springs City Council President Tom Strand, who both ran in the first round for Mayor and are both Republicans.

“I am running because I have the leadership to help us in this next chapter, ” Moboloade said. “I am poised to lead from day one. My only agenda is to serve our people of Colorado Springs and no strings attached. I just want to remind voters, if you’re still on the fence, it really is a decision between the city for the few and the city for the many. A city with a decision between special interests and your interest. A difference between negative campaigning and leadership and fear-mongering and optimism and inspiration and running on solutions.”

Williams, however, is the better-known and more experienced of the two. He is supported by current Mayor John Suthers and one of Colorado Springs’ most prominent housing developers.

“I believe that when you talk about where someone’s going to take our city, where they’re going to lead, you look at what they’ve done before,” Williams explained. “That’s why my opponent’s refusal to answer questions about how he voted indicates uncertainty, and an unwillingness to be honest and forthright with the people of Colorado Springs. I believe that my track record demonstrates where I will continue to lead the city going forward.”

Professor Dunn, who is writing a book on the political differences of Colorado Springs, said he’s curious to study trends in how a growing population could affect the region’s conservative base.

“First of all, Wayne Williams has huge name recognition, and that costs money,” Dunn explained. “You have to try to match that name recognition, so that’s the biggest obstacle for Yemi. He has to actually, I think, has to raise a lot more money than Williams, simply because he’s an unknown quantity.”

Population growth isn’t the only change Colorado Springs faces. With a new mayor comes the city’s third person to hold the Strong Mayor title.

“We had the Council-Manager form of government for over 80 years and with the change to the strong mayor, which happened in 2011, we have an elected mayor who has responsibility for the administrative side of the city’s operation,” Mayberry explained. “With that has come a change in the interest in the funding that goes to that one person who’s responsible for the administration of city government.”

Before Colorado Springs names its next mayor these candidates must first prepare to take on the growing pains of the city and potentially one with a growing political affiliation.

“As Colorado Springs continues to grow over the next 10, 20, 30 years, the question will be how much of that growth will then erode the conservative base in Colorado Springs?” Dunn said. “I do think that even though it’s going to, I think inevitably lead to some erosion of the Republican and conservative base in Colorado Springs, we’re going to probably look back and say this is still a fairly safe conservative and Republican area.”

Despite their political differences, one thing Williams and Mobolade can agree on is it’s important to get out and vote.

“We are Colorado Springs, and I can’t wait to get that brand back to the city,” Mobolade said. “It doesn’t belong to just my campaign, but belongs to the city of Colorado Springs because it takes all of us to make Colorado Springs into a world-class American city because we are Colorado Springs.”

“It’s a matter of working together as a city,” Williams said. “We have to continue the progress we’ve been making, addressing critical needs like roads and public safety. I want to be the mayor that accomplishes that and helps the people of our community realize their own American dream.”

FOX21 News will host a Primetime Forum on Thursday, May 11 from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., ahead of the Mayoral Run-off Election, between Williams and Mobolade on Tuesday, May 16. Evening Anchors, Scott Kilbury and Taylor Bishop will be the hosts.

Ballots were mailed on Monday, April 24, and must be returned by May 16 at 7 p.m. The City Clerk drew names for ballot position: Williams will appear first on the ballot and Mobolade will appear second.