On Tuesday, Colorado will hold its primary elections. At stake in the many contests is the statewide direction of both parties and their narrative heading into the midterm elections. Because of the many races on the ballot, we’ve decided to publish a separate article solely previewing Colorado, and we’ll lead off with the statewide races first.
For Senate, incumbent Michael Bennet will be the Democratic nominee and will square off against either State Representative Ron Hanks or businessman Joe O’Dea. Hanks, a far-right representative who participated in the January 6 storming of the US Capitol, is widely considered as unelectable and is likely to make the general election all but a formality for Bennet if he is nominated. This has led to Democratic efforts to boost Hanks against O’Dea, who has consolidated most of the establishment support and led 38-14 in the only publicly available primary poll of the race. At this point, although the dearth of data in the race means the potential for an upset cannot be ruled out, O’Dea enters Tuesday as the favorite, and we rate the primary Leans O’Dea. The general election is Likely Democratic, with Bennet the heavy favorite to win in a Biden +13 state that has rocketed left of late. Should Hanks win, however, the race will move to Safe Democratic.
For Governor, incumbent Democrat Jared Polis is uncontested in his primary, and the GOP will be nominating either Heidi Ganahl or Greg Lopez to challenge him in the general election. Ganahl, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, is currently the only statewide Republican, but her campaign has faltered against former Colorado SBA administrator and Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, who is running a more vocal and insurgent campaign. Lopez’s tactics will endear him to an increasingly ascendant far-right in the GOP primary, and it makes him the slight favorite over Ganahl, but it comes at a significant cost in the general election, where he is at significant risk of alienating wide swaths of moderates. We rate the primary as Lean Lopez, and the general election as Likely Democratic — however, if Lopez does win his primary as expected, the general election becomes safe Democratic.
For Attorney General, Democrats will renominate incumbent Phil Weiser, who Republicans will be challenging with District Attorney John Kellner. Weiser underperformed the top of the ticket in 2018, and Kellner is a well-funded and credible challenger, meaning that this race will very likely be more closely contested than the gubernatorial contest. We rate this race as Likely Democratic.
For Secretary of State, incumbent Democrat Jena Griswold will be facing off against one of the three Republicans vying to win the GOP primary, with former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, nonprofit head Mike O’Donnell, and Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters all fighting for the Republican nomination. Peters has the most energy behind her, and even as Anderson is the more mainstream candidate with a more Denver-metro based appeal, Peters’s campaign is synced up with the pulse of an increasingly rural and downscale Colorado GOP. Peters, a figure with ties to right wing movements who has boosted baseless election conspiracies, would be a candidate akin to Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano, but in a much more Democratic state. We rate the primary as Lean Peters, but this would only serve to drive the nail in the coffin for Colorado Republicans in this race, as Griswold ran the closest to Polis’s landslide margin in 2018, and she was the only Democrat to carry either Conejos or Las Animas county. She has strong appeal and she would likely dominate in a general election, which we rate as Safe Democratic.
For Treasurer, incumbent Democrat Dave Young has only one opponent: Republican Lang Sias, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 and lost. Sias is a credible candidate, but unless Young makes serious missteps, this race is very likely going to track extremely closely with the gubernatorial one, which we rate as Likely Democratic.
Moving to the congressional side, districts 1, 2, and 6 all do not feature any major action on either side. Congressional District 7, which stretches from Jefferson County to the upper reaches of the Arkansas Valley, pits uncontested Democratic State Senator Brittany Pettersen against one of three Republicans: army veteran Erik Aadland, businesswoman Laurel Imer, or businessman Tim Reichert. Imer represents the far-right and is endorsed by former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who once enjoyed favorable relations with the white nationalist group VDARE. Aadland is more of a mainstream establishment conservative, while Reichert has espoused some more pro-regulatory common-good conservative viewpoints.
In our view the establishment vote will be split between Reichert and Imer allowing Aadland to sail through, confirmed doubly by the fact that the 7th is dominated by Jefferson County; this suburban county typically favors more establishment candidates compared to the more insurgent conservatism found in the outer portions of the seat. Aadland is probably the strongest Republican, but Pettersen should lock down the seat for Democrats in the general election with ease, as she has run tough races before.
In the 8th district, Democratic State Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton has the nomination for Team Blue all to herself. Four Republicans are running in the primary to contest her, with state senator Barbara Kirkmeyer, former Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann, veteran Tyler Allcorn, and Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine all vying for the GOP nomination. Similar to the 7th, ideological and geographic arguments are at play here. Weld dominates the GOP primary – so Kulmann’s geographic base in Thornton (Adams County) already is handicapped; Kulmann’s campaign also has not caught fire as she would have hoped – thus our consensus is that one of Kirkmeyer or Saine is likeliest to emerge victorious in the primary. Saine represents the far-right and Kirkmeyer represents the establishment. In a county which has produced far-right luminaries such as Rep. Ken Buck and Sheriff Steve Reams, it is not a bad idea to bet on the far-right again. As such, we narrowly think that Lori Saine is the favorite, and will make what would be a likely pickup for Republicans into a hard-fought tossup against Caraveo. Kirkmeyer is very strong though and it will not be implausible to see a Kirkmeyer victory — she would be a favorite over Caraveo in a general straightaway.
In the 4th district, which is anchored in the rest of Weld County and the eastern Plains, incumbent Republican Ken Buck is now seen as insufficiently conservative by some party activists due to his support of Liz Cheney. Said activists have nominated Elbert County realtor Bob Lewis to challenge him. Unlike Boebert against Tipton in 2020, however, Lewis does not appear to have the full slate of resources that Boebert possessed in that race. Buck is likely to win his primary and is safe in the general election.
Similarly, the 5th district, based in Colorado Springs, features incumbent Republican Doug Lamborn. A staunch conservative, his relatively low profile has made him a target for those in the district who see him as a RINO (a Republican in Name Only), and he has had relatively weak showings in primaries. This cycle Lamborn has three challengers: business owner Andrew Heaton, Navy veteran Rebecca Keltie, and State Representative Dave Williams, who is the former vice-chair of the El Paso County GOP and the most high-profile of them all. Lamborn has beaten back nondescript primary challengers before, and he should do so again, but an upset by Williams would not be a major surprise. While the 5th is rapidly trending left, it should remain safely Republican in a year like 2022.
District 3: Rope-a-Dope on the Slope
The most watched contest by many will be the dual primaries taking place in the 3rd district, based in the Western Slope. The incumbent is Republican Lauren Boebert, who is now widely famous for a litany of controversial actions and statements. A visible participant in the events surrounding the insurrection of January 6, 2021, she has been criticized by many in Colorado, including from her own party. The anti-Boebert forces have settled on two paths: nominating a more mainstream Republican in the primary to defeat Boebert, or beating her with a Democrat in the general. In a year like 2022, the former is a fair bit more likely to occur.
This is the logic that State Senator Don Coram followed in deciding to challenge her. Coram is a politician who is well-respected on both sides of the aisle as a moderate and a dealmaker, which are traits the Western Slope would generally find attractive, given the 3rd district’s extremely diverse array of communities and interests. Still though, Coram is relatively underfunded against a challenger like Boebert with only a couple hundred thousand dollars. Ten years ago, that would have been an impressive haul, but with Boebert’s far right politics accurately representing the pulse of the Western Slope GOP, Coram’s resources aren’t enough to counter Boebert’s deluge of cash.
One advantage he has, comparing to Tipton in 2020, is that the share of independents voting in the GOP primary is sharply up from 2020. In 2020, roughly 3% of the electorate for the Republican congressional primary was composed of unaffiliated voters. As of June 26, that number was 24%, and today, that number has risen to 25%. A large number of Democratic-leaning voters have switched registrations to vote in the Republican primary against Boebert — at the time of the most recent calculation, there were a net 10,000 new unaffiliated voters over the last three months in the 3rd district’s counties. Almost all of these are likely anti-Boebert Democrats, but as an incumbent, Boebert likely will win a large portion of conservative-leaning independents regardless. A sensitivity table of possible outcomes, based on the 75 Republican/25 Unaffiliated split, is presented below, with the possible outcomes based on the margins.
The median case shows that Boebert’s grip on registered Republicans really has not budged, and independents are still fairly conservative leaning – thus the median case is a 25-point win for Boebert in the primary, with her getting c. 62% of the vote. A Coram win is indeed possible but Boebert’s numbers with registered Republicans would have to be significantly worse than any available indicator would suggest, and the same would be true for the conservative independents in the 3rd. Had more money been put behind the Coram challenge, it is possible that Boebert could have gone the way of fellow agitator Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who lost his primary very narrowly, but as it stands, she is extremely likely to win both the nomination and the general election.
Pivoting to the Democratic primary, the fact that so many unaffiliateds are voting in the GOP primary means that the 85% of the Democratic primary comprises of actual Democratic-identifying voters, who by definition are more liberal and ideological than voters who classify themselves as independent. Three Democrats are vying for the nomination: Adam Frisch, an Aspen city councilman, Sol Sandoval, a Pueblo activist and organizer, and Alex Walker, an entrepreneur with loose ties to Avon.
Walker’s support tends to be mostly online, while Frisch and Sandoval have generally occupied the moderate and progressive lanes of the district. Frisch’s candidacy represents the Democratic nominees of the past, like Diane Mitsch Bush or Gail Schwartz, who represented predominantly liberal white mountain towns. Sandoval’s candidacy is strongly rooted in her Mexican-American background and her unique attention to the Latino community. The primary could very well break along these lines of the mountain towns versus the San Luis Valley/Pueblo/Arkansas Valley.
Either way though, no Democrat is likely to beat Boebert in a year like 2022. The best chance for the 3rd district to elect someone other than Lauren Boebert is through a primary upset by Coram, but even that is an event with a sub-5% chance of happening. Boebert may yet lose a general election in the future, and it may even be as soon as 2024. This year, however, she is very likely to be safe.
I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.