By: Brian Bohnert
With the collective national attention focused on the presidential race, sometimes the other races get lost in the political shuffle (not to be confused with the 1985 smash hit The Superbowl Shuffle). While certainly not as compelling as the main event, congressional races in the state of Colorado open an excellent window into the unique demographic areas found within Colorado – from the urban centers on the front range, to the ranch lands of the western slope. These races represent the pulse of the state within the context of national representation and deserve some much needed attention from students of political science and the media alike.
First, let us turn to the United States Senate race – the only state wide vote that will determine who represents Colorado in Washington DC. Wayne Allard’s 2007 announcement that he would not seek a third term in congress left the Democrats salivating over the prospects of sending yet another senator to Washington and had the Republicans scrambling to defend a seat in a year that will prove to be difficult for the GOP brand. Both parties avoided a tough primary election and the field was quickly narrowed to two seasoned Colorado politicans in Mark Udall (D) and Bob Schaffer (R), both former US Congressmen that had eyed the senate seat in the past. With the Democrats riding a wave of success from the 2006 midterms (Governor, House, Senate, US Senate) Udall quickly seized the opportunity to tie Schaffer to the Bush “legacy” and contrast his own progressive record with Schaffer’s traditional republican model. This ad not so subtly does the job: Not surprisingly, Schaffer responded by pinning the “Boulder Liberal” tag on Udall, which carries with it all of those crazy things that Boulder voters care about (equal rights, clean environment, peace, birkenstocks…etc.). Since this is a statewide race, and the conservative western slope/Colorado Springs area seems to respond (and by respond, I mean giggling about gays and pot smokers or gay pot-smokers) to this overplayed stereotype, this ad: was a logical step for the Schaffer campaign. In many ways, this race is emblematic of the the internal identity struggle within Colorado and in some respects the entire rocky mountain region. Schaffer runs on a predictable pro-business, extraction economy, family values platform while Udall (a former Outward Bound instructor) runs on the also somewhat boilerplate pro-union, pro-environment, anti-war platform of the Democrats. It seems the blue trend will continue in Colorado as recent polling shows Udall ahead by 6 points. If this holds true, the duel Democratic representation in the US senate will be the first since the 1970s.
While the Colorado senate race is one of the most closely watched by pundits nationwide, no less important are the seven congressional districts within Colorado. Currently, the delegation is split 4-3 in favor of the Democrats who are hoping to pick up at least one more seat in the next session of congress and it looks like it might be possible – here is how:
This mostly urban district has been controlled by the Democrats since 1973, most recently by Congresswoman Diana Degette, a life long Colorado resident and attorney who by most standards leans towards the liberal side of the spectrum. She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and faces George Lilly in the general – a less than formidable opponent endorsed by Ron Paul and political heavy weight Chuck Norris.
This district encompasses Boulder, Grand, Summit and Clear Creek counties and has been represented by Mark Udall (now running for the senate) since 1999 and leans heavily Democratic with Boulder having the final say in District 2 politics. Not surprisingly, this race is considered a “safe” seat for the Dems as Jared Polis faces off against Scott Starin, a republican engineer with a focus on energy conservation technology who has managed to raise a paltry 15K for his war chest. Polis, an openly gay candidate, made millions with online businesses and according to opensecrets.org spent a small fortune (5 mil) in his primary race to defeat former president of the Senate Joan Fitz-Gerald and is about to reap the rewards on his investment.
This district is topographically the largest within the state stretching from Pueblo to the Utah border. John, the younger of the Salazar brothers in the US congress, wrestled this district away from the grasp of republican control in the 2004 election who had clung to the seat since 1985 (well, sort of – Ben Nighthorse Capmbell was elected as a Dem and went all Benedict Arnold on us and changed allegiance to the GOP during his tenure in congress). This year he faces off against Wayne Wolf, a western slope rancher with limited political experience and typical “big government, don’t take my guns” rhetoric on his website. Not surprisingly, CQ politics predicts this as a safe seat for the Democrats.
This race is the must watch show of the political season even for the casual observer of Colorado politics. In a district that has been represented by uberconservative Marilyn Musgrave since 2004, a democrat has not seen playing time since the 1970s. In fact, a few familiar republican faces – Wayne Allard and Bob Schaffer – have represented this tradition loving district in the past. However, her time in congress may be coming to a close as Rolling Stone recently pegged her as one of the “10 worst” members of congress and had this glowing report in a recent issue:
Musgrave has made regulating the bedroom behavior of her fellow Americans the focus of her entire career. An evangelical Christian who married her Bible-camp sweetheart, Musgrave does not believe in the separation of church and state. For her opposition to gay marriage — as well as her push to legalize concealed weapons — Musgrave received an endorsement from the KKK in May.
She won close elections in 2004 and in 2006 and faces a tough challenger in Betsy Markey who worked as Ken Salazar’s frontwoman during his successful senate race in 2004. While this race is officially “leaning republican” it looks like the Dems could pluck one out from under the GOP in November and give some much needed progressive elixir to the college educated types in Fort Collins.
The 5th district encompasses Colorado Springs. The winner will be Doug Lamborn. He is a Republican. Let’s move on.
This district is one of the wealthiest and whitest in the nation with a median household income at over to 70k and a dominant white population (87.9%) so it is no surprise that the GOP has controlled the reigns since the early 1980s. This district is home to John Elway, who was rumored to be considering either a run at the seat or possibly Allard’s senate seat. Most recently, self-appointed immigration czar Tom Tancredo has represented this district and hopes to hand it off to conservative Mike Coffman – the current Secretary of State. His website touts his military experience and labels him as a “proven conservative leader.” Hank Eng, his Democratic challenger does not seem to pose a significant threat but recent rumors of corruption have been swirling around the Coffman camp and may allow the Dems to pull off an upset in CD6 – but it seems like a long shot at best.
Prior to 2000, this district did not exsist but due to recent population growth in Colorado, the map was redrawn to account for an additional congressional representative. This district was first represented by farmer turned politician Bob Beauprez who gave up the post in a failed gubeintorial race in 2006. Democrat Ed Perlmutter won the seat in 2006 and hopes to defend it from a challenge by John Lerew this election cycle. The Denver suburban district is bascially split in thirds between the Democrats, Republicans and Independents and Perlmutter has done just enough/not enough in his first term to earn another term in Washington and CQ politics.com agrees deeming this as a “safe Democratic” seat.
While these are only a small fraction of the seats up for grabs in the November, they are a good barometer for Colorado feelings on a whole. If the polling holds up it could mean a 7-2 democratic advantage in the next session of congress and if the moons align, that figure could be pushed to an 8-1 margin – both of which will have DNC chairman Howard Dean screaming for joy.