Ready, set, go!

A-a-a-a-and, they're off!

Or at least they're a step closer to the starting line.

On the morning of June 24, more than a dozen Colorado politicians woke up, looked in the mirror and saw the next member of Congress from Colorado.

Just like that, congressional wannabes in the private sector and hard-working public servants who have been toiling away in local and state offices — their ambitions hampered by long-serving incumbents or home addresses in out-of-reach districts — saw an opening.

A few even sprung into action, if sending tweets that weren't exactly subtle and making some calls to potential donors count as action.

The occasion was the long-anticipated unveiling of the state's Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission's preliminary district map.

For the first time, following voter approval of independent commissions to draw boundaries for congressional and legislative districts every decade, following the census, Colorado's congressional lines will be decided by a panel of volunteers, rather than state lawmakers and judges, though the state Supreme Court has to sign off on the plan later this year before it takes effect.

While the decennial debut of every set of congressional boundaries sparks optimism in some and dashes the hopes of others, this week's drawings are especially freighted with possibility because, for the first time in 20 years, Colorado gains a congressional seat.

Based on recommendations made by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others who have provided early input to the commission, the maps carve a new district on the north side of Denver, including much of Adams County and points stretching up the Front Range.

Like magic, residents of Arvada, Westminster, Thornton and Broomfield, plus a big slice of Weld County heading up toward just outside Greeley, found themselves in what could be the state's new 8th Congressional District.

It's crucial to keep the subjunctive part of that sentence in mind — the maps released this week, drawn by the commission's staff, are preliminary and could change plenty by the time they're adopted. The commission is still awaiting final census numbers and is about to embark on a statewide tour to hear from residents about their ideas for congressional districts.

If initial reactions to the preliminary maps are any indication, commissioners will get an earful about at least some of the maps' choices.

But the highly theoretical nature of the new district didn't stop politicians who found themselves within its boundaries from humbly announcing their intention to work hard for the hard-working people of the Great 8th.

The district as it's drawn currently leans comfortably toward Democrats — Joe Biden won its voters by 15 points last year, a point and a half better than his performance carrying Colorado — but that hasn't stopped several Republicans from floating their names, or at least hearing their names among those floated.

With a moderate voting record and success winning in Democratic-leaning districts, state Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, could be the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination if he decides he wants to run.

Other Republicans who might make a bid in the new district include former state Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, and former Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo, who also rose to leadership in the state House.

Democrats who might run include state Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster, who let reporters know that the new district undoubtedly has the same concerns as the house and senate districts she's been representing in the General Assembly. State Rep. Brianna Titone from neighboring Arvada tweeted an observation that a competitive district like the proposed 8th CD requires a candidate with a "demonstrated ability to win over unaffiliated voters."

Joe Salazar, the former state representative from Thornton who ran for attorney general in 2018, could also see an opening.

State Sen. Dominick Moreno, who lives just outside the new 8th CD in Commerce City, was one of four Democrats running in the 7th CD four years ago when it looked like it would be an open seat, so clearly has congressional ambitions.

Of course, congressional candidates don't have to live in the district they're running to represent, which was demonstrated by two of Colorado's members of Congress over the last 20 years. Republican Bob Beauprez and Democrat Jason Crow, both lived outside the districts they would represent before running.

The appearance of the 8th CD isn't the only change to the map. Every district is different, though a couple, like the Denver-based 1st CD, aren't appreciably different.

The Western Slope-based 3rd CD loses a big chunk of Southern Colorado that's been in the district for decades, as the map moves Pueblo County and the San Luis Valley to the 4th CD, which covers the Eastern Plains and also includes Greeley.

In the Denver metro area, the 7th CD keeps Lakewood, Wheat Ridge and Golden in Jefferson County but then heads east, gobbling up large swaths of Douglas County including Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree, all the way to Castle Rock.

Overall, the proposed 3rd CD, represented by Republican Lauren Boebert, is similar to its current political makeup, though it loses a big share of Latino voters. Donald Trump won the new district by seven points last year, just a smidgeon better than how he performed in the current 3rd CD.

The 7th CD, represented by Democrat Ed Perlmutter, retains its suburban character but shifts markedly to the right politically, taking it from a reliably Democratic seat to a slightly Republican-leaning seat. Even though it's a toss-up on paper, Biden won its voters by nine points last year.

Boebert has had as many as eight Democrats running to take her on, though it looks like the proposed maps leave just one of the major contenders in the 3rd CD — state Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail.

Two other two major candidates, state Rep. Don Valdez of La Jara and Sol Sandoval, the Pueblo activist and community organizer from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, both landed in the 4th CD. That heavily Republican district is represented by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who lives in Windsor, just outside Greeley.

Sandoval came out swinging in a statement calling the preliminary map “racist” and pledging she's going to charge “full steam ahead.”

"My commitment to my community stands,” she said. “Our schools are still neglected, our veterans are still lining up at food distribution centers, we still can’t afford to get sick.”

Noting that more than 45% of the state’s Latinos were drawn into districts that lean Republican, Sandoval slammed the commission for making the proposed CD4 “the most Latino and the most Republican in the state,” as well as drawing the only Latino congressional candidates into it.

"These early maps will not hold up to scrutiny,” she said.

She's drawing attention to a factor that could heavily influence the map the commission ultimately selects, since it's illegal to dilute minority influence and could lead to a federal lawsuit that could hold up a final plan.

Valdez has said he plans to run for the nomination in whatever district he lives in, and so could be a more formidable challenger to Buck than the four-term incumbent has faced previously but is keeping his focus on Boebert at this point.

Perlmutter, whose house in Arvada in the proposed 7th CD is just a stone's throw from the new 8th CD, could face a wide field of Republicans wanting his job. Already, Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas has begun assembling a congressional campaign, and as soon as the maps hit, state Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, started reaching out to supporters.

Other potential candidates from the GOP stronghold of Douglas County include state Reps. Kevin Van Winkle and Patrick Neville, from Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock, respectively.

Former attorney general nominee and district attorney George Brauchler could make a run for it, though he's also looking at the prospect of running for DA in the new judicial district that will be created in 2024, since the term limits that drove him from office last year will reset.

The final maps won't be known for months, so this week's stirrings could be just the beginning, but for now, Colorado is facing a political gold rush in a state that has some experience with gold rushes.

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