NOONAN | Expect bare knuckles, scorched earth as state Senate races heat up


The general election contests for control of Colorado’s state Senate will follow two of philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s depictions of human experience: nasty and brutish.  They won’t be, as Hobbes also wrote, short. Seventeen senate districts are up, but four will be hardest fought.

Voters should expect mail depicting opponents as lying “swamp creatures.” That designation comes from one of the crazier primary election postcards put out by Republican Frank Francone, vanquished primary candidate supported by incumbent state Senate candidate Tim Neville. The piece looks like it came from Sasha Baron Cohen’s political team, two-parts satire, two-parts ridiculous.

Democrats are most eager to return SD-24 to their side of the aisle.  The district has a 5+ Democratic registration, but Beth Martinez-Humenik carried the day in the 2014 Republican wave.  She is the most moderate Republican senator, but some of her 2018 votes go cross-ways to Rep. Faith Winter, HD-35, on support for rural Colorado and health care.

Winter received attention in 2018 for her sexual harassment complaint that brought on a full review of the work climate at the Capitol.  Winter has a $120,000 fundraising lead over Martinez-Humenik, due in part to a national campaign among women in a “Sister District” fundraising program. An anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats gave Winter 5,000 more votes in the primary than Martinez-Humenik.

The next most coveted seat for Democrats is SD-16 that state Neville wrenched away in 2014 when he defeated former Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, pillorying her for her anti-gun control votes.  Neville is noted for his pro-life and gun-rights positions.  He’s voted against most bills to fund state government.

Tammy Story is a tough competitor for Neville.  An education activist, she’s known in Jeffco for her work electing the current school board. She began her candidate career in 2016 when she came close to winning HD-25. While money doesn’t always talk, Story has raised $70,000 more than Neville, in part through the “Sister District” program, and she received 5,400 more primary votes than Neville.

Story can go after Neville on several fronts, given that the district registration that leaned Republican in 2014 is now even Democrat to GOP.  Women unaffiliated voters will be her best target. Like for Winter, the wind behind Story’s back is likely to be close to hurricane volume given that some of SD-16 is in Boulder and Denver.

Democrats have to retain two Senate seats in Jeffco to win the chamber.  Republican activist and Tea Partier Tony Sanchez is taking his second shot at SD-22 that he lost in a close one to Sen. Andy Kerr in 2014. He has a tough battle against popular Democratic House Representative Brittany Pettersen. Sanchez is keeping up with Pettersen on fundraising, but that likely won’t last.

Democrat Jessie Danielson, HD-24, is tasked with hanging on to Independent Cheri Jahn’s SD-20 over competition from Republican Christine Jensen.  Jahn won as a Democrat by a thin hair in 2014.  The district is almost tied in registration.  Danielson has advantages: she’s an incumbent House member, an experienced campaigner, and has about $40,000 more than Jensen.  But Jensen is game.  She’s raised $68,000 in a tight-fisted Republican year.

President Trump was not the favorite GOP candidate for many Colorado Republicans.  State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, running for governor, is not likely to have long winning coattails.  Republican candidates for the legislature are pretty much on their own. Like for Democrats in 2014, it’s not fun to be sucked under a breaking wave.

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.

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