What Each Party Wants From the Primaries

What Each Party Wants From the Primaries
Shutterstock file photo
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Candidates have been battling to become their parties' picks for the November general elections. We just told you who we think is going to win the primaries on Tuesday, but who wins is almost as important as how they win.

The rule of thumb is that a moderate, centrist candidate is more "electable" in a general election, particularly in a state where independent voters constitute a plurality of the voting population. Two key examples of this thinking are Governor John Hickenlooper, who is widely regarded as a centrist Democrat and was re-elected in 2014 despite a Republican wave in the state and nation that year, and Republican Mike Coffman, who has been re-elected in a Democratic-leaning district partially due to his reputation as a moderate Republican.

Because only party members could take part in primaries until now, the primaries often led to nominations of the farthest left or right candidates. But with independents partaking in the Colorado primaries for the first time, centrist figures may stand a better chance, something that could benefit both parties. Democrats have been plagued by the progressive-establishment divide since Bernie Sanders's rise in the 2016 primaries, and Republicans are still torn between the more populist, Trumpy wing of the Republican Party and the more mainstream, Coffman-like version of it. With Colorado's independent streak in mind — we elected a GOP senator and a Democratic governor in the same election just four years ago — Colorado's primaries will give us a sneak peek at who may have an early leg up heading into November.

With that in mind, based on conversations with Republican and Democratic consultants and strategists and an independent political analyst, here's what both sides are likely looking for heading into Tuesday's primaries.


The GOP's primaries are far more of a snoozefest than those of the Democrats. It'd be a shock if Walker Stapleton didn't win the gubernatorial primaries, and the only competitive congressional primary is in the Colorado Springs-based 5th District. The winner in this safe Republican seat (incumbent Doug Lamborn is the favorite) is virtually guaranteed to win November's general election.

That said, there are some things Republicans would like to see Tuesday night, and it starts with Stapleton's margin of victory. After an April signature snafu threw his campaign into a blender for a week, Stapleton, helped by an endorsement from former gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, cruised to victory at the Republican state assembly. Since then, his status as the unquestioned frontrunner hasn't really been challenged, despite a few blatant lies and funky poll results.

A sweep on Tuesday would show the party's firm backing of the two-term state treasurer and would bring together the more moderate and Trumpier wings of the party behind one candidate.

"A good night for the Republican Party looks like a not-terribly-competitive victory for Stapleton, [with] no one in a close second position," says independent political analyst Eric Sondermann.

Republicans will also be closely tracking what happens to their Democratic challengers. In the attorney general's race, progressive challenger Joe Salazar, a Thornton state representative backed by Bernie Sanders, might be too left for independent voters in the general election, giving Republicans a chance to retain the seat left by Cynthia Coffman.

Congressman Mike Coffman
Congressman Mike Coffman
Buckley Air Force Base.

In that vein, the Coffman camp, and in turn, the GOP would probably celebrate a victory by 6th District Democratic primary challenger Levi Tillemann in his race against party favorite Jason Crow. But Tillemann's fundraising has been underwhelming and probably wouldn't be good enough to compete in a general against a well-funded incumbent like Coffman, and after secretly recording the number-two Democrat in the House of Representatives earlier this year, he hasn't exactly endeared himself to fellow Democrats. For Coffman, a potentially endangered Republican in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton, a strong Tillemann performance or victory on Tuesday could allow him to survive in the expected blue wave in November.

Coffman's campaign manager, Tyler Sandberg, has repeatedly taken to the Twittersphere to support Tillemann (and bash Crow), making the GOP's preference here plainly obvious.

"A good night for the Republican Party looks like...an upset somewhere on the Democratic side — i.e., Salazar winning, or possibly in one of those congressional races, although those are harder to imagine," Sondermann says. "That would be a good night for the Republicans."

Jared PolisEXPAND
Jared Polis
Kenzie Bruce


In turn, a good night for Democrats is likely to include definitive wins for their party-favored candidates in the congressional primaries, along with a win for attorney Phil Weiser in the attorney general race. A win for party-favored candidates would make November less of a toss-up for Democrats, who have been split in the primaries by progressives and moderates.

"A good night for the Democrats would be an easy Crow victory, an easy [Joe] Neguse victory [in the 2nd congressional primary against Mark Williams] and a Weiser victory," Sondermann says.

While there are clear front runners in the congressional and attorney general races, there's less of a favorite in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The thinking is that whoever emerges from the crowded pack will start the general election campaign as the favorite to keep the top of the statehouse under Democratic control.

"There is a school of thought that Jared Polis has a tougher time in November, but any Democrat is going to be very competitive in November, and probably start the race as the favorite," Sondermann says, referencing Polis's more progressive image. "That applies to Polis as it does to Johnston or Kennedy or Lynne."

There'll be plenty to watch for tonight. Make sure you get your ballots done (and properly!).

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.