Keep an eye on Jefferson County when election results come in on Nov. 6. Three of the five races that will determine which party controls the Colorado Senate — and potentially could put the legislature under one-party dominance — are in the western Denver suburbs.
The state House of Representatives is another matter. It’s unlikely that with an eight-seat deficit, that Republicans will be able to flip enough seats in the House to take control away from the Democrats. There are several seats that could flip from Democrat to Republican, but Democrats also have a shot at flipping at least two seats.
In the Senate, 17 seats are up for election. Eight seats are open, meaning no incumbents. Seven of the eight are held by members who are term-limited: One is unaffiliated, three seats are held by Democrats and the last three held by Republicans.
In addition, one Democrat, Sen. Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs, chose not to run for re-election, so that leaves another open seat for Democrats to defend.
Among what’s left: Republican incumbents are defending seven seats; Democrats, two.
5 Senate seats to watch
In all five of the Senate districts that are the most in play for November, active unaffiliated voters outnumber voters from all political parties, including Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have picked up voters in all five of the districts in the last four years, while Republicans have added to their numbers in three of the five and by far smaller numbers. But unaffiliated voter numbers grew substantially in all five districts between 2014 and 2018.
Democrats hold two of the seats; a third is held by the Senate’s lone unaffiliated member, Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge; and Republicans hold the other two.
There were no primary challenges in the five contests, so the primary performance of the candidates in June begins to tell the tale of what might happen in November. So does campaign spending; Democratic candidates have outraised and outspent their Republican opponents in all five races.
Three of the five Senate seats getting the most attention (and the most campaign noise from fliers, internet ads and the like) are in Jefferson County. Two are open seats; the third is held by Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton.
Four years ago, active Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by 4,000 in Senate District 16, Neville’s seat. That margin, as of September, has evaporated. Democrats have taken a 300-vote lead in the district that includes Gilpin and Clear Creek counties and a small portion of Boulder County, in addition to its largest voter county, Jefferson.
In the June primary, Democrat Tammy Story drew 18,424 votes; Neville won 12,996 votes.
Story has so far been the top money-raiser among Democratic candidates for the Senate, with $395,189 to Neville’s $194,798. As of Sept. 26, and according to the Secretary of State’s TRACER campaign finance system, Story had $252,438 in the bank heading into the last month of the contest. Neville has $157,619.
Senate District 20 is Jahn’s district. She was a Democrat until late last year, when she switched to unaffiliated, although she most often caucused with the Democrats.
Democratic Speaker Pro Tem Jessie Danielson is vying for the seat against Republican Christine Jensen, both of Wheat Ridge. The district encompasses Wheat Ridge as well as portions of east Lakewood.
Four years ago, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the district, 32,244 to 29,987. This year is a different story. Democrats gained 4,500 but Republicans only added about 150 to their active voter numbers. Democrats now lead by 34,474 to 32,395 for Republicans. But the biggest growth by far was in unaffiliated voter numbers, which surged from 36,678 to 44,689.
Danielson also drew more voters in the June primary, 19,778 to Jensen’s 13,821. Danielson has so far raised $314,672 to Jensen’s $133,300, which includes more than $17,000 in loans. Heading into the last month before the election, Danielson has $214,237 in the bank to Jensen’s $119,282.
The second open seat in Jefferson County is held by Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr, and that district’s voter numbers also appear to favor Democrats. Between 2014 and last month, Democrats added almost 2,700 voters; Republicans lost about 800 voters. As in the other districts, however, unaffiliated voters grew by more than 5,000 and are at 37,363.
The contest is between Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Republican Tony Sanchez. Pettersen won 16,066 votes in June; Sanchez took in 11,440 votes. Pettersen has raised $265,023; Sanchez has taken in $101,046. Pettersen has $112,119 for the last month of the contest to Sanchez’ $77,340.
Senate races elsewhere
Republicans are targeting one seat on the West Slope, held by Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail. She’s being challenged by Republican Olen Lund of Paonia, formerly on the Delta County commission. Donovan won the seat in 2014 in a Republican wave year that saw the Senate flip from Democratic to Republican control. Republicans have held the Senate ever since.
The district encompasses seven counties, including its largest, Eagle County, traditionally a Democratic stronghold. The county with the largest voter numbers for Republicans is Delta, although voter numbers are 10,000 less than in Eagle County’s 29,000.
As of September, the district has 25,199 Democratic voters, 26,214 Republicans and 36,345 unaffiliated voters. Democrats have picked up about 3,000 voter registrations between September 2014 and last month. Republicans lost about 600. But unaffiliated voter registrations surged by more than 5,000 in the same time period.
Four years ago, Democrats were at about a 3,500-vote disadvantage to Republicans. That margin has shrunk to 1,000.
In June, Donovan garnered 13,707 votes to Lund’s 9,796. She’s raised $197,067 to Lund’s $16,027. Donovan has $127,043 in the bank. Lund has $7,831.
Meanwhile, during the legislative session, Capitol observers could talk of little else (election-wise) than the match-up between Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik of Thornton and Democratic Rep. Faith Winter of Westminster in Senate District 24. Many believed that seat would hold the key to control of the Senate.
But when Americans for Prosperity announced last month they would set up a first-ever independent expenditure committee, they didn’t include Martinez Humenik among the candidates they intended to support (Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, Neville and Jensen).
Martinez Humenik won the seat in 2014 in that Republican wave year, coming from a district that had not elected a Democrat in decades. Martinez Humenik won the seat by 896 votes, about a 1.6 percent difference.
In 2014, Democrats held an advantage over Republicans in voter registrations by 2,200. That gap is now nearly 5,000. Through September, Democrats have picked up more than 3,000 voters, to 29,111. Republicans have added 1,200 for a total of 24,357 active voters. Unaffiliated voter registrations are up by nearly 6,000, to 36,718.
Winter also performed better in the June primary, with 14,313 votes to Martinez Humenik’s 9,401. Winter has so far raised $359,228; Martinez Humenik has taken in $112,436. Left in the bank for Winter, as of Sept. 26: $172,589; for Martinez Humenik, $74,588.
But it isn’t only the candidates who are spending in the millions to win a $30,000 a year job: Add to that the millions more being spent by independent expenditure committees, which by law cannot coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns.
The biggest for the Republicans so far has been the Senate Majority Fund, which backs Republicans and which has spent $1.5 million, all on those five Senate races. Coloradans for Fairness is the Democratic version, and that committee has so far spent just shy of $2 million, most of it for the same five races.
And in the House
There are only five members of the Colorado House who are term-limited, and all are Democrats and in mostly safe Democratic districts.
But take a look at the number of House members who decided to do something else for 2019, and the list grows by a factor of three. Fifteen members of the House are leaving that body, 10 Republicans and five Democrats. Eleven ran or are running for other offices, such as county commissioner, state Senate, state Treasurer or even Lieutenant Governor (Republican Rep. Lang Sias of Arvada).
Then there were three who lost their primary races (Republican Reps. Judy Reyher of Swink and Phil Covarrubias of Brighton, and Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver) and another who quit for other reasons (Republican Rep. Tim Leonard of Evergreen).
While all 65 seats are up for election in 2018, those changes create 20 open seats in the House.
So what are the races to watch? To be honest, the Senate is the main battleground in 2018. But there are a few races that could be interesting.
House District 47 includes Fremont, Otero and parts of rural Pueblo County. The race began with a primary loss by Reyher to fellow Republican Don Bendell. But Bendell’s children launched a salvo of their own, calling him a “deadbeat dad” for failing to pay child support for 17 years.
While the seat has been held by Republicans since 2010 with the election of then-Rep. Clarice Navarro Ratzlaff, this is a seat, based on current voter registrations, campaign fundraising and primary performance, that could go to the Democrat, Brianna Buontello of Pueblo.
When former Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton got kicked out of the General Assembly last March amid accusations of sexual misconduct and retaliation against his accusers, he switched his party registration at the last minute to allow a Republican to fill the House District 34 seat. But voter registration, campaign fundraising and primary performance don’t bode well for his replacement, Rep. Alexander “Skinny” Winkler. His Democratic opponent, Kyle Mullica, has so far raised more than $104,000 to Winkler’s $925, although Winkler has also loaned his campaign $12,000.
The seat has not been held by a Republican in at least 30 years. Active Democratic voters numbered 13,529, as of September; Republicans numbered 9,162 and unaffiliated voters outnumber them both, at 16,099.
And then there’s the perpetual back-and-forth between Democratic-Rep. Tony Exum, Sr. and Republican former Rep. Kit Roupe, both from the House District 17 seat in southern Colorado Springs. Exum won the seat in 2016, taking it from Roupe, who took it from him in 2014. Voter registration favors the active unaffiliates, with 13,706; Democrats trail behind at 10,304 and Republicans at 8,139. Exum has outraised and outspent Roupe so far in 2018, but don’t count her out: he outraised and outspent her in 2014 and still lost.
And the strangest race may belong to House District 62, in the San Luis Valley. The district is solidly Democratic, but the campaign spending so far actually slightly favors the Republican challenger, Scott Honeycutt of Alamosa, helped by a loan of more than $13,000 to his campaign coffers. He’s challenging Democratic Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara, who has faced questions about whether he actually lives in the district and for getting into confrontations with fellow Democrats at the state Capitol.
Finally, there’s House District 41 in Aurora, where Rep. Jovan Melton is running unopposed for re-election. However, House Democratic leaders on Wednesday called for Melton to step down after a report surfaced of years-ago arrests on allegations of domestic violence. As of now, Melton hasn’t indicated what his plans are. Regardless, ballots have been printed and his name will appear on it.