Colorado’s Democratic Party surged into Election Day with high hopes and plentiful funding. The polls gave them a strong chance of keeping the governor’s office and perhaps winning a few more top-of-the-ticket races.
The looming question was whether the Democrats could gain just a single Senate seat, retaking a “trifecta” of elected power in Colorado.
Early in the night, it seemed more than possible: As of 7:30 p.m., Democratic candidates led in all five of the critical Senate races, according to early returns.
Notably, the Democrats were on track to take two Republican seats: Challenger Tammy Story led incumbent Sen. Tim Neville by 9 percentage points with half of the precincts reporting. Challenger Faith Winter led incumbent Beth Martinez Humenik by 11 points with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
The Democratic candidates also saw strong early returns in the three districts the party is defending.
The Republicans took the Colorado Senate in 2014, giving them leverage over Gov. John Hickenlooper’s final term.
This year, the key Senate races were a perfect example of Democrats’ national hopes: that five women candidates could hold and take suburban and swing districts, capitalizing on angst and anger about President Donald Trump. For Republicans, the races were a last stand against what they warned would be unchecked spending from a governor Jared Polis.
With little public polling, it was impossible to guess how this year’s cycle would end. But it was intensely obvious to voters in those tossup districts that they were at the center of a fight for the state’s future.
Democrat Tammy Story raised more than $500,000 as she tried to unseat Republican District 16 Sen. Tim Neville in the western Denver metro — a nearly unheard-of sum for the $30,000-a-year job.
Three other Democrats topped $300,000 of fundraising in Senate races centered in Jefferson, Adams and Eagle counties, while Republicans lagged behind in fundraising.
And independent groups from both sides poured in money under much looser campaign finance limits: State records showed at least $15 million of independent expenditures on advertising and staffing across the five key races. That’s roughly $30 for each of the half-million active voters in these districts.
Despite the heavy spending, several battleground voters told the Denver Post that they couldn’t remember the names of the local Senate candidates — but they knew they wanted to support their party.
“I got a lot of mail, and I heard a lot, and I was doing some research,” said Richard Raymond, 57, of Lakewood, who spent four hours on his ballot.
But, like several voters who spoke to the Denver Post, he had already forgotten the names of the Senate candidates in his district.
“Republican,” he said of his vote. “I can’t honestly remember.”
On the scene
On Election Night, many of the key state Senate candidates gathered early in the evening at strip-mall brewpubs like C.B. & Potts in Westminster and the Old Edwards Tavern in Eagle County, or at the Jefferson County Democratic Party’s event in Lakewood.
Each of the five races brought a different dynamic. In District 16, challenger Story decried the “radical ideas” of Neville, a staunch opponent of abortion rights. He focused on a small-government message with a socially conservative underpinning, while Story’s platform included education and transportation improvements.
Tony Sanchez, the Republican candidate for District 22 in eastern Jefferson County, also ran to the right: He defends rights and said on Facebook that he supported “ICE, not sanctuary cities.” A mailer from his campaign claimed that his opponent, Brittany Pettersen would “let addicts shoot up on your street!” (Pettersen is a supporter of supervised “harm reduction” facilities for drug use.)
In District 24, Republican incumbent Beth Martinez Humenik ran toward the middle. After a printed ad featured her and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, the governor responded with a video endorsement of challenger Faith Winter.
Where they were the challengers, Republicans tried to acknowledge the strains of growth — especially on schools and transportation — while pushing back against the “burden of an ever-growing government,” as District 20 candidate Christine Jensen put it in a questionnaire. At the same time, she broke with the national party on immigration, saying she supported Colorado “having sanctuary cities.”
In Aspen, Republican Olen Lund also ran down the center.
Jensen’s opponent for the open seat, Jessie Danielson, is the current speaker pro tem for the state House. Two other Democrats in the battleground races, Winter and Pettersen, also are well-known members of the party’s House caucus.
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