The Colorado Democratic and Republican Parties have now concluded the majority of their pre-primary activities, including county and district caucuses and assemblies. Democrats are looking to extend their dominance in the formerly purple Centennial State, while Republicans are trying to win back some ground. Split Ticket examines the races and makes some early predictions below.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet will be the nominee for his party after token opposition was eliminated at the convention. On the Republican side, a wide field was winnowed down to one candidate at the assembly: State Rep. Ron Hanks. Hanks, a partaker in electoral conspiracies, was joined on the ballot by businessman Joe O’Dea, who has not amassed a vocal record of far-right rhetoric as Hanks. O’Dea has more money and financial resources to put behind a campaign, but grassroots GOP energy is heavily on the side of Hanks. Split Ticket rates the primary as Lean Hanks.
The general should see Bennet win fairly comfortably after two very close elections in 2010 and 2016, both bad years for congressional Democrats. Against an extreme candidate like Hanks, Bennet’s race is Solid Democratic but against O’Dea Likely Democratic would be a more appropriate rating.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis will be the nominee, as confirmed by Colorado Democrats at their state assembly. The Republican field is more interesting. A variety of candidates was whittled down at the convention to 2: Regent Heidi Ganahl, and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez. Ganahl is currently the only elected statewide officeholder in the GOP, and her connections to well-connected financial donors make her the heavy favorite in the primary. Split Ticket’s rating is Likely Ganahl.
The general election will be no doubt closer than in 2018, when Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton underwhelmed and let Polis claim a double-digit rout. Polis’s libertarian streak has endeared him to some moderates and conservatives and he remains broadly popular. Split Ticket rates the race Solid Democratic.
Incumbent Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser is the uncontested nominee for Team Blue. On the Republican side, Arapahoe County District Attorney John Kellner is the uncontested nominee, after the Colorado GOP disqualified his opponent Stanley Thorne for not being a registered Republican.
In the general election, Democrats are favored to hold the race, but Kellner is a quality nominee for the GOP and may benefit from some suburban ticket-splitting particularly in Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. Weiser underran Polis in 2018, especially in this part of the state. Split Ticket rates the race Likely Democratic.
Secretary of State
Incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold will face no primary opposition. The GOP side of course, is more interesting. Three candidates have qualified for the ballot: former Jefferson County clerk Pam Anderson, Yuma County businessman Mike O’Donnell, and Mesa County clerk Tina Peters. Peters is by far the most notorious of the three, as she is embroiled in an electoral fraud investigation that ties her up with the Stop the Steal movement. Anderson is the more moderate of the three, opting to qualify for the ballot via signatures rather than the more ideologically polarized state assembly. Given Peters’s popularity with the hard-right elements of the Colorado GOP, it makes sense to peg the primary at Leans Peters.
The general, should Peters be the nominee, would make Griswold the prohibitive favorite. She is also the only nominee from 2018 to win most formerly-Democratic counties in Hispanic Southern Colorado, so her rural appeal definitely persists more than other Democrats. Additionally, a Peters candidacy would present toxic issues that would hamper GOP efforts in the well-educated localities around Denver. Split Ticket considers the race Solid Democratic against Peters and Likely Democratic against one of the other two candidates.
There are no primaries here to speak of – incumbent Treasurer Dave Young (D) will be running against former State Rep. Lang Sias (R), who was the 2018 nominee for Lieutenant Governor. Sias is a conservative with a historical track record of running close races – and both the Democratic and Republican camps believe that the Treasurer race will be on the closer side. Sias’s profile relative to Young’s is also better than almost any matchup in the 2022 season – which is why Split Ticket believes this race starts out as Leans Democratic.
Congressional District 3
The Western Slope-based 3rd District is held by controversial Rep. Lauren Boebert, who has made headlines for her brash far-right rhetoric. As such, Democratic energy to unseat her is high. The district assembly yielded one victor – Pueblo activist and organizer Sol Sandoval, who defeated a number of challengers including State Rep. Donald Valdez (D-La Jara), the only elected official in the primary pack. Joining Sandoval are two petitioning candidates, Alex Walker, and Adam Frisch. Walker is an openly gay Democrat touting his moderate credentials, and Frisch is an establishment liberal, who formerly served on the Aspen City Council. The primary is rated as Leans Sandoval, as Frisch and Walker are likely to split the ski towns in the north of the district, while Sandoval will heavily consolidate the southern Hispanic areas of Pueblo and the San Luis Valley. This is not to mention that Sandoval’s successful assembly run shows that the grassroots are on her side.
The Republican primary is between Boebert and State Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose), a moderate conservative with a penchant for bipartisanship. Highlighting his more conciliatory results-oriented style, he is aiming to bring a voice to Washington that focuses more on constituent service and delivering important items for the 3rd District. Unfortunately for him, Republican energy is heavily behind Boebert and it is not clear if Coram has the resources or will to mount a victorious primary campaign. The primary is Likely Boebert.
The general, in any case, is Solid Republican. The new 3rd is one point redder than the old 3rd, and 2022’s likely red lean is not going to be friendly to Democrats. On paper it is not a very red district but it takes a lot of leg work to actually turn the district blue, leg work that is not very possible to complete in a year such as 2022.
Congressional District 4
The main action in District 4 is in the GOP primary – this seat is prohibitively Republican and no Democratic challenge of note will come from this district. Incumbent Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) is being challenged by Elbert County realtor Bob Lewis. Lewis criticized Buck for supporting Liz Cheney as she has turned anti-Trump, as well as for calling election-result deniers from 2020 “conspiracy theorists”. In other words, he is a Republican in the mold of Lauren Boebert, Ron Hanks, and Tina Peters.
Lewis does have the grassroots of the 4th District Assembly on his side. The Weld County GOP is mad at Buck for the Cheney issue as well – there is a non-negligible chance that Buck suffers the same fate as Scott Tipton. But seeing as Buck has the example of history to follow, coupled with his own incumbency and being from the largest GOP vote sink in the seat (Weld County), we see him as favored for now and rate the primary Lean Buck.
The seat is Solid Republican in the general election.
Congressional District 5
Once again, this is a safely Republican seat centered on Colorado Springs/El Paso County. Incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn is being challenged, most prominently by conservative insurgent State Rep. Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs).
Lamborn is an incumbent who has had numerous primary challenges and has won easily, however Williams has serious credibility with the far-right elements of the state GOP and could catch an incumbent sleeping. For now though, we rate this race Likely Lamborn in the primary and Solid Republican in the general.
Congressional District 7
The 7th stretches from Jefferson County to the upper portions of the Arkansas Valley – thus adding in lots more Republican territory. State Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) is the presumptive Democratic nominee after every potential challenger swiftly kissed the ring. On the Republican side, three candidates are on the ballot: Laurel Imer, Erik Aadland, and Tim Reichert.
The Republican primary most prominently features Reichert’s money against Imer’s hard-right bona fides. Former Rep. Tom Tancredo has endorsed Imer, but Reichert has not spent any money yet – though it is imagined that his money will carry the day at the end. This seat, in our eyes, is Lean Reichert for the GOP nod and Likely Democratic in the general.
Congressional District 8
Similarly to the 7th, the 8th has had a cleared field for Democrats. State Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton) is the nominee and has staked out a liberal voting record to rally the Democratic base ahead of November’s general.
The GOP primary is almost exclusively based out of Weld County – as the Greeley area holds the largest source of red votes. Four candidates are in the primary field now: Green Beret Tyler Allcorn, State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, and Former Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann. Saine occupies the far-right lane espousing the most Trumpy rhetoric, while Kirkmeyer, Allcorn, and Kulmann are more establishment-minded conservative.
As of now, Kirkmeyer and Kulmann are likely vying for the top spot. As the only candidate with a strong base in Adams County, Kulmann could benefit from a split Weld vote. Thus we rate the primary Lean Kulmann, with the caveat that Kirkmeyer or Saine could win if it is a close enough race. Allcorn does not seem to have the stamina to mount a winning campaign.
In the general, this race is definitely the most competitive in the state. We thus rate the seat Tossup. Two notes though: first on electability, Kulmann’s strength in Thornton might help considerably in drawing down the Democratic margins of victory, and Kirkmeyer’s ability to outperform the presidential baseline considerably could be an asset. Second, Lori Saine’s caustic far-right campaign may prove toxic in energizing a counter-turnout among Democrats and Latinos in Adams County. This will be the congressional race to watch in the state.
That’s it for this Colorado roundup, check back when we cover the Centennial State next!