A lot has happened in Colorado politics since our last update – notably the retirement of 7th District Rep. Ed Perlmutter. This article will spell out the latest updates and offer some insights as to what the fall may bring, specifically in Congressional Districts 7 and 8.
District 7 – Broomfield to Bishop Castle
Ed Perlmutter’s decision to retire sent shockwaves through the political world. The 7th District is based in suburban Jefferson County, with a western spur reaching as far south and west as the upper portions of the Arkansas Valley (Leadville, Salida, Cañon City). As much of the activity of Colorado Democrats has been focused on turning formerly red strongholds in Denver’s suburbs blue, the opening of the 7th District presented a golden opportunity for a go-getter Democrat to better their name.
Numerous names were posited as contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (Arvada) to Rep. Brianna Titone (Arvada) to Sen. Brittany Pettersen (Lakewood). Split Ticket can confirm that many elected officials seriously considered running for the nomination, but all but one demurred and declined.
State Sen. Brittany Pettersen is now the heavily presumptive Democratic nominee. Announcing just days after news of Perlmutter’s retirement, she racked up endorsements from almost every elected Democrat in Jefferson County, including Perlmutter himself as well as all other Democratic incumbent congressmen from Colorado. Even Titone, who many were eager to see run and to make history as the first openly transgender member of Congress, enthusiastically endorsed Pettersen. Thus, this primary ended almost as quickly as it began.
On the Republican side, the nomination is more mixed. There are four candidates with varying degrees of legitimacy – businessman Carl Andersen, veteran/former Senate candidate Erik Aadland, former House candidate Laurel Imer, and businessman Tim Reichert. Whichever candidate wins the primary will have an uphill battle. Jefferson County has long been a bastion of ticket-splitting in favor of downballot Republicans, but that has persisted less and less over time. Only 17% of the district is outside of Jefferson and Broomfield – this rump is the reddest part of the seat, giving Trump 60% of the vote in 2020. This makes reversion in Jefferson and Broomfield that much more critical – and against a candidate as strong as Pettersen on the Democratic side, it is much less likely. These demographics confirm Split Ticket’s rating of the 7th as Likely Democratic.
District 8 – Route 85 Corridor
Unlike the 7th District, in which political power is vested in left-zooming educated suburbs, the 8th is much more of a mixed bag. Two poles of power exist in this unforeseen pairing of demographics – Democratic Adams County and Republican Weld County. A small portion of Larimer County is included as well but it is demographically and politically more similar to Weld so for the purposes of this analysis they shall be grouped together.
The 8th was created as a new Latino-opportunity seat and it is 35% Latino by total voting-age population, with the latest citizenship estimates from the ACS placing the seat’s electorate at 28% Latino. This seat is about the most Latino one could draw in the northern suburbs without splitting Denver proper.
The Latino population of the district is concentrated mostly in the south, in localities such as Thornton, Northglenn, Westminster, and Commerce City. There is also a nontrivial Latino population in Greeley – but the populations are not completely politically homogeneous. The Adams portion of the seat is 30% Latino CVAP, while the remainder is only 24% – meaning that Latinos in Weld County suffer more from citizenship-related issues and do not punch at their expected weight. Furthermore, Weld County has an educational attainment rate of 28% per the Census QuickFacts site – Adams is not much higher. The demographics thus do not, under the recently-divined rules of education polarization, lend themselves to robust pro-Democratic political participation. This is where Weld County’s Republican margin comes from – white voter political power is magnified, and communities such as Fort Lupton, Milliken, Lochbule, and Evans are filled with conservative whites that amplify this power.
Further complicating this district for Democrats is the big issue here: oil.
Pictured above is a map from Rocky Mountain Wild showcasing different rights for oil and gas drilling in the state of Colorado. Black, red, and purple signify land that has been set aside, by private landholders or the federal government, for resource extraction. Where is this most heavily concentrated? In southern Weld County and Broomfield, precisely the exact area that the 8th Congressional District derives its political power from. Weld County’s proclivity for oil also explains why its swings leftward have been more muted than other large urbanized red counties in Colorado, like El Paso and Mesa.
Looking at the raw partisanship – the Weld and Larimer portion of CO-08 cast just over 38% of the vote in 2020 – Adams cast 62%. The Weld and Larimer portion was 56% Trump to 41% Biden, while the Adams portion was 56% Biden to 41% Trump. Thus politically the two are inverted from each other. We use Dave’s Redistricting App has a primitive regression to see that white voters in Weld are more conservative than whites in Adams – no doubt driven by the prevalence of oil.
Thus, the question becomes – who can turn out more of their base? Democrats in Adams or Republicans in Weld? Split Ticket’s own Lakshya Jain has written about the crucial nature of minority turnout for Democratic wins in midterms – and nowhere is that truer than the 8th. Unlike the 8th, the whites in the 8th are not broadly getting more Democratic – if anything, much of Weld County’s swing left was an anti-Trump vote rather than a genuine Democratic trend; all of the local political scene is run in the Republican Party, outside of a few areas in Greeley. The Democrats in the 8th do not have a “demographics is destiny” argument as Democrats do in the 6th or 7th. The key to winning this seat, which gave Biden 51% of the vote in November, relies on energizing Latino voters.
On the Democratic side, two main candidates are in the running. State Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Eastlake) and County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco (D-Thornton) are both duking it out. Both candidates claim Latino ancestry, and are making Latino outreach a priority. Caraveo has been racking up endorsements from most elected officials in and outside of Colorado, while Tedesco has earned the support of former Speaker Andrew Romanoff and former State Rep. Joe Salazar, who once represented an area in the boundaries of the new 8th. On the Republican side – three main candidates have emerged. The two most traditional candidates are State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who is known as an establishment conservative, and Jan Kulmann, the former Mayor of Thornton. Also in the race is Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who is a former state representative – she is running a pure culture war campaign very much in the style of Ohio’s Josh Mandel. No polls of the race have been done but the consensus on both the Democratic and Republican side is that Kirkmeyer is currently a slight favorite for the Republican nomination.
Given 2022’s likely red partisan lean, all three candidates would be tough, but Kirkmeyer would be formidable, as she is an active elected official who is well-respected across the aisle and outperformed Trump by double digits in her most recent election. Caraveo versus Kirkmeyer would be the battle royale Colorado deserves – neither candidate has strong connections to the other party’s base – Caraveo is a progressive Democrat from Thornton and Kirkmeyer a conservative Republican from Brighton.
As of now, given the relative inelasticity of the district Split Ticket rates the race as a Tossup. If Caraveo or Tedesco energize enough Latino voters to offset whites in Weld punching above their weight, this seat will go to Team Blue. If Republicans start making inroads with Latinos (which is not something that the GOP has publicly made serious efforts to do in Colorado, unlike the Republican parties of Florida, Arizona, and Texas), that also could complicate things. But as of now the board is set. The pieces are moving. An evenly-matched fight it shall be, to the finish, determined by the strength of the respective campaigns in reacting to the political environment around us all.