How to watch Colorado election night returns like a political insider

Coloradans will get their first clue as to whether a “blue wave” is hitting the Centennial State when the first results are released almost immediately after polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

But early results — like polls — don’t always tell the story. Here are some tips for interpreting those first numbers on election night:

The East Coast

Before voting is even finished in Colorado, returns in key states in the Eastern Time Zone such as Florida, Georgia and Ohio will give us clues as to whether a blue wave is coming or Republicans successfully stemmed the tide.

All three states have closely watched governor’s races where there isn’t an incumbent — just like our race between Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton. They also have competitive seats for the U.S. House of Representatives in suburban neighborhoods — where President Donald Trump’s approval rating has dropped — like Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.

If you want to watch specific House races for clues on Tuesday, keep your eyes on Virginia’s 10th District, Florida’s 15th and 27th districts and Georgia’s 6th District.

If the majority of these races are locked up by one party before voting ends in Colorado, that would offer a clue as to what is about to happen here.

Mike Coffman and the 6th District

The Republican representative from Aurora has outperformed the polls and fended off three tough Democratic challengers since Colorado’s 6th Congressional District was redrawn in 2012.

One indicator of whether he does it again will be Douglas County. This is the red part of his district that includes Greenwood Village, Centennial and Highlands Ranch, and it’s an area where Coffman has traditionally won about 60 percent of the vote.

Democrat Jason Crow has spent a lot of time trying to win over educated suburban women in these neighborhoods by talking about his children, violence in schools and gun control. It’s a strategy Democrats across the country are testing in affluent suburban neighborhoods in the hopes of flipping control of the House.

GOP Strategist Dick Wadhams said if Crow shrinks the gap in Douglas County down to 12 or 15 points, the race is most likely over and it could signal real trouble for statewide Republican candidates.

The governor’s race

Voters in Denver and Boulder, Colorado’s big blue counties, historically return their ballots closer to Election Day, which means the percentage those offices will have counted by 7 or 8 p.m. Tuesday will be lower than in other counties. Initial statewide returns, therefore, can be expected to skew more red than the final result.

In 2014, for example, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper trailed Republican challenger Bob Beauprez for hours after the polls closed. If the governor’s race is tied or Stapleton leads Polis by a percentage point or two in early results, it’s likely the Republican treasurer has lost his bid for governor.

Even a five- or six-point early lead for Stapleton could be wiped out when Denver and Boulder count their ballots, said Andrew Baumann, senior vice president of Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling firm.

“I would still feel pretty comfortable if I were Polis in that scenario,” Baumann said.

A sleeper race in Colorado

If Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush has a shot at toppling Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in the 3rd Congressional District, she needs to win Pueblo County and close part of the 30-point margin Republicans have had in Mesa County.

Pueblo and Mesa counties bring in about 42 percent of the vote in the sprawling district. Mesa County has more registered Republicans and Pueblo County has more registered Democrats.

In 2010, Tipton lost Pueblo County 41 percent to 56 percent to Democratic Rep. John Salazar, but the Cortez Republican won the seat and flipped the district by running up large margins in places like Mesa County, where he beat the Democratic incumbent 62 percent to 32 percent.

Tipton has won Pueblo in the last two elections. A victory for him there in 2018 means the race is all but over.

The Colorado Senate

Five races for the Colorado Senate will determine which party controls the General Assembly.

Democrats are trying to hold seats in districts 5, 20 and 22, in Jefferson County and around Aspen, while Republicans are fending off strong challenges in districts 16 and 24, which encompass largely suburban areas west of Denver.

In 2014, Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, lost three of the four counties in the 16th District, but his win in Jefferson County was enough to carry him into office. That means even a tie in Jeffco with his Democratic challenger, Tammy Story, could spell defeat for Neville.

The closest race is thought to be between Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, and Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and the winner may not be known on election night.

Several pollsters and political operatives told The Denver Post this race — and ultimately which party controls the Colorado Senate — could still be undecided when people wake up on Nov. 7.

The Colorado House

The House is expected to stay in Democratic hands on election night, but there could be a few surprises lurking in specific districts.

House District 17, which covers south-central Colorado Springs, traditionally flips back and forth from Republicans to Democrats every two years. Democrats win the seat in presidential years, and Republicans pick it up during midterm elections. It has been that way for the last decade.

That means Republican Kit Roupe, who previously held the seat, should take it back from Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, on election night.

However, Exum has raised $127,000 while Roupe was shy of $31,000, according to campaign finance records, leaving some to wonder if this year’s dynamics could upend the pattern.

In nearby Manitou Springs, where House District 18 sits, there’s an outside chance that Maile Foster, an independent candidate backed by Unite Colorado, could win the open seat.

The nonprofit is running five candidates for Colorado’s legislature in the hopes of changing the balance of power in both chambers. If any of these folks win — especially the candidate for state Senate in District 30 — it could change the narrative.

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