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Farm Team: In Colorado, Ambitious Democrats Hit New Ceiling

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Udall, above, and Bennet are a spring chickens by Senate standards and could be in office for decades to come, blocking the path for other ambitious Colorado Democrats.

Democratic control of Colorado’s governor’s mansion and two Senate seats is a bragging point for the national party, but it makes for a high-class problem for downballot Democrats hoping to move up the political ladder: They have no where to go.

Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain Republicans have yet to field a serious candidate to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, but they insist their dry spell is temporary.

It’s a recurring theme in CQ Roll Call’s Farm Team series: A single party dominates a state’s politics, and lack of turnover chokes ambition. But from a partisan standpoint, Colorado is different because this battleground state is dominated by Democrats.

“We have more talent than we have slots ... which is a nice, nice problem to have,” said Laura Chapin, a Democratic consultant in Colorado.

Republicans counter that their bench is not thin — it is in transition. Timing is everything, and it is still early in the cycle, they argue. However, the delegation is so young that opportunities are few.

Udall, 62, and Sen. Michael Bennet, 48, are spring chickens by Senate standards and could be in office for decades to come, depending on their electoral fortunes. Bennet is now the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — a strong indicator that he is putting down roots in that chamber.

The short list of GOP candidates to challenge Udall is just that — short. The most oft-mentioned Republican name of late is former Rep. Bob Beauprez, who lost his 2006 gubernatorial bid.

“None of them have put their names in yet, but we will have a candidate ... and we will defeat Udall in the next election,” Colorado GOP spokesman Owen Loftus said.

That leaves GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s 6th District as the most competitive race in the state. After redistricting, Coffman sought re-election in a radically redrawn seat. His once-safe Republican seat is now one of the most competitive in the country and includes one of the nation’s most expensive media markets, suburban Denver.

In 2012, Coffman won by 4 points by leveraging his massive war chest accumulated from years of safe races. This time around, Democrats are bullish on his likely Democratic challenger, former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Elsewhere, state Democrats continue to argue that Republican Rep. Scott Tipton’s 3rd District is competitive. But that’s hard to see after he won re-election in 2012 by 12 points. Even Democrats now concede they were stunned with the margin and blame the price tag of several combined expensive markets.

“In some respects, it is easier to win there in a non-presidential year because that district touches every single media market in the state,” state Democratic Party spokesman Matt Inzeo said, noting the millions of dollars that the presidential campaigns and super PACs spent in 2012.

“Without some of that insanity, you might be able to put together a reasonable congressional campaign budget to do TV,” he added.

Democrats name state Sens. Angela Giron and Gail Schwartz as possible contenders. Also, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is actively recruiting Schwartz and Lt. Gov. Joseph A. Garcia.

Up and down the ballot, Democrats name a litany of state officeholders as their political future. They include state Reps. Crisanta Duran, Rhonda Fields, Dan Pabon and Brittany Pettersen, state Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, state Sens. Mike Johnston and Jessie Ulibarri, and former state Rep. Karen Middleton.

Republicans describe Rep. Cory Gardner as the brightest GOP star in Colorado, hoping he would run for Senate. Even Democrats will praise his political skills.

Gardner has yet to rule out his run, but his actions do not show much enthusiasm for a Senate run. Instead, Republicans say he will continue on the fast track for House leadership.

Other GOP names to watch in the coming years include state Reps. Brian DelGrosso and Clarice Navarro, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, state Sen. Ellen Roberts, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and former state Rep. Jon Becker and state GOP Treasurer Christine Mastin, according to state Republicans.

Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays.

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