Even though Colorado Republicans remain optimistic about their chances to win bigly in November, the odds are stacked against them.
As a rule of thumb, midterm elections tend to deliver wins up and down the ticket to the party out of power, which this time around is Democrats. A second rule of thumb is that voting is a habit, so the primary electorate is more likely to cast ballots in the general elections in November than it did in June.
There's one final ingredient that some political analysts say will drive more Democrats to the polls in November, and that is President Donald Trump himself. With a more polarized electorate nationally, Democrats are confident that more of their party will vote straight-ticket and that unaffiliated voters, the largest voting bloc in Colorado, will increasingly toss their support behind them. If the primary election was any indication, unaffiliated voters who side with Democrats outnumber unaffiliated who lean Republicans by about a 60,000-vote margin.
With so much anticipated enthusiasm on the left, the Colorado Democratic Party is homing in on one of its top priorities this year: flipping the state Senate. Republicans have held a razor-thin majority of just one seat since 2014, the first time the chamber had flipped red in a dozen years. A second competitive Senate seat that Democrats are eyeing is held by the only independent in the state legislature, Cheri Jahn of Jefferson County, and her seat is up for grabs in November.
Few seats in the 35-member Senate are in swing districts, and the toss-up races happen to be in the Denver area. If Democrats manage to take home at least two of those competitive Senate seats, the party will control the General Assembly. (The House is firmly in the Democrats' control.) And with Coloradans historically favoring a Democratic governor, Republican will have to fight tooth and nail to keep Democrats from overtaking the two branches of state government.
Here are the Democratic candidates, listed in no particular order, who could potentially flip the Senate in November.
Representative Faith Winter is a Westminster resident who was elected to House District 35 in 2014, and before that, she served on Westminster City Council for seven years. Winter jumped into politics after spending more than a decade helping to elect other women. She was the founding executive director at Emerge Colorado, which works to elect women in state and local races, and she worked with the now-defunct White House Project, which does the same thing on a national level.
Although Winter isn't term-limited in the House, she decided to jump into the competitive Senate District 24 race, which comprises Westminster, Thornton and Northglenn. She's running to unseat Republican Senator Beth Martinez Humenik, who has held the district for one term.
Humenik was the first Republican to hold the seat in at least two decades, and during the previous two elections, in 2010 and 2014, the traditionally Democratic district has become more competitive. In 2010, then-incumbent Lois Tochtrop beat her Republican challenger by a single-digit margin, and in 2014, Humenik beat her Democratic opponents by just 1 percent. Based on the primary turnout, Winter has a substantial double-digit lead over Humenik.
Winter has gained significant name recognition in the past several months as the woman to open the #MeToo floodgates at the Capitol after she outed her alleged sexual harasser, Representative Steve Lebsock of Thornton, who was expelled in March after third-party investigators concluded that he "more likely than not" sexually harassed five women, including Winter. After she publicly accused Lebsock late last year, other women came forward to lodge formal complaints against House and Senate members, including senators Randy Baumgardner, Jack Tate and Larry Crowder and Representative Paul Rosenthal.
Tammy Story is a Conifer resident who ran a vigorous campaign against Republican Representative Tim Leonard back in 2016. She was narrowly beat by less than 2 percentage points in a district that hasn't seen Democratic representation in at least thirty years. Even though she lost the House race, she's making her second attempt to win a state office with her bid for the Senate this election cycle, this time against Republican incumbent Tim Neville, a staunch conservative and the owner of a family insurance agency in Littleton.
Story has never held elected office but has been a public-school activist and volunteer community adviser at Jefferson County Public Schools for nearly two decades, including a recent stint as a member of the Jefferson County Education Association legislative forum. She helped recall three conservative district board of education members in 2015 who were pro-charter and supported performance-based teacher pay.
Neville has sponsored four of the last five anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in the Colorado Legislature since 2016, including a bill this year that would have rolled back decades of progress for queer Coloradans by creating numerous legal loopholes for religious institutions, county clerks and businesses to deny them services. He calls himself a "no-compromise" gun advocate who has regularly sponsored legislation for things like concealed carry without a permit. In 2016, he promoted the bill with an AR-15 "giveaway." This session, Neville co-authored an anti-sanctuary-city bill and legislation that would have stopped RTD from implementing discount fare programs, like the youth and low-income pass programs that the agency had studied over the past year.
In what could be the most nail-biting race in the Senate this year, Representative Jessie Danielson is facing off against Republican challenger Christine Jensen for Senate District 20. The seat is currently held by term-limited Senator Cheri Jahn, a Democrat turned independent. Democrats have held on to the district for at least thirty years, but it has become increasingly competitive. In 2010, Jahn won by only 4 percent of the vote, and in 2014, when a libertarian ran as a third-party candidate, she squeaked past her Republican challenger with about 400 votes, or a fraction of 1 percent of the ballots cast.
Though she was technically born in Greeley, Danielson is a third-generation Wheat Ridge resident and is the third-ranking Democrat in the House. This session, she worked on bills to advance equal pay for women, allow for local control of minimum-wage laws and create state tax deductions for military retirement benefits. She was elected to the House in 2014 and has served two terms, meaning she hasn't yet hit her term limit in the lower chamber of six consecutive years.
Jensen is a pro-business conservative. She has served as the chairman of the Arvada Chamber of Commerce and currently chairs its government affairs committee. She also has more than two decades of experience in the mortgage industry; she recently became the Arvada branch manager for Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation and spent about fifteen years as a branch manager for Cherry Creek Mortgage Company, according to her LinkedIn profile. This is Jensen's first foray into politics.
Update: On July 12, this story was updated to correct that Representative Faith Winter held elected office prior to her 2014 bid for the House and to clarify her position with Emerge Colorado.
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