Colorado Has Seen Heavy Turnover in House Districts

Posted February 25, 2008 at 6:31pm

With an open Senate seat, two open House seats and a few potentially vulnerable incumbents, the 2008 cycle is a cornucopia of opportunity for Colorado politicians who aspire to serve in Washington, D.C.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sen. Wayne Allard’s (R) decision to honor his term-limits pledge and vacate his seat — although failing to generate a competitive primary on either side — did spawn one of the nation’s most hotly contested Senate races, with Rep. Mark Udall (D) battling former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R).

Open seats in the Boulder-area 2nd district, which was vacated by Udall, and the suburban Denver 6th district, where Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) is retiring, have touched off competitive primaries. The bench of up-and-coming Democrats is getting its shot at Capitol Hill in the Democratic-leaning 2nd district, while the farm team of ambitious Republicans is finding fertile ground in the GOP- leaning 6th district.

This turnover isn’t just welcome news for ambitious pols; the voters seem to like it, too.

“Longevity has never been a big factor in Colorado,” said one Colorado-based Republican strategist, in regards to the large amount of Congressional turnover there over the past few cycles. “The whole notion of seniority has never been a big argument here.”

In addition to this cycle’s open seats, the competitive nature of Colorado politics is jeopardizing the career of two incumbents, as Democrats target Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) in the Republican-leaning 4th district for the second consecutive election, and Republicans target their own in the safely GOP 5th district. There, freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn is facing a primary challenge from two of the candidates he beat for the GOP nomination in 2006.

Earlier this cycle, three Democrats were vying to challenge Musgrave: 2006 nominee and former state Rep. Angie Paccione; Eric Eidsness, who first abandoned the GOP for Independent status before finally joining the Democratic Party; and Betsy Markey, a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).

Markey, the favorite of the Democratic establishment, won that sweepstakes, with Paccione and Eidsness dropping out and leaving the ex-Salazar aide with a clear path to the Democratic nomination. If Markey fails to oust Musgrave in November, Democrats in future cycles might turn to state Rep. Jim Riesberg or Bent County Commissioner Bill Long.

Should Musgrave lose, however, Republicans would be looking for a candidate in 2010. If so, they might try to

recruit former acting state Treasurer Mark Hillman, state Rep. Cory Gardner, or Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

The 5th district is considered far too Republican to generate serious Democratic competition for Lamborn. But Lamborn’s path to a second House term remains murky, as former Congressional aide Jeff Crank and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn — both of whom ran in 2006 — are challenging him in the Aug. 12 primary.

State Rep. Amy Stephens is considered a candidate of the future in that district by some Republicans, because of the way she has distinguished herself in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats aren’t writing off the 5th district just yet.

Running this cycle is retired Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack (D), whom the Democratic strategist described as being in the mold of 2006 nominee Jay Fawcett, another retired Air Force officer who lost to Lamborn by 20 points. Democrats also believe that state Sen. John Morse would be a good candidate in the Colorado Springs-area 5th district, which is home to the Air Force Academy.

In the 2nd district, where the boundaries are drawn to favor Democrats, Udall’s decision to run for Senate created an opening that three Democratic candidates are trying very hard to fill.

Joan Fitz-Gerald (D), until recently the state Senate president, is in a competitive primary race with wealthy former state Board of Education President Jared Polis and environmental advocate Will Shafroth. Also considered a political heavyweight in the 2nd district and potential Congressional candidate down the line is state House Majority Leader Alice Madden.

The Republicans don’t expect to win the 2nd district this cycle, regardless of who the Democrats nominate. But GOP officials are talking to two “credible” candidates about running, said the Colorado-based GOP strategist, although this individual declined to name names.

In the 6th district, where the GOP has a significant political advantage, several Republicans are campaigning to succeed Tancredo. Among the leading candidates are Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman; businessman Wil Armstrong, who is the son of former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.); and state Sen. Ted Harvey. Also running is state Sen. Steve Ward.

State Sen. Tom Wiens, considered yet another viable GOP candidate for this seat, opted not to run this year. Down the line, Republicans might look to state Rep. Frank McNulty to run in the 6th district. Like Stephens, some Republicans believe his performance in the Legislature bodes well for his political future.

Democrats in the 6th district are pinning their hopes this cycle on Vietnam veteran Mike Collins and aerospace engineer Hank Eng, at least for now. Also viewed as potentially strong candidates who might be able to pull off an upset there are state Rep. Joe Rice and two physicians, David Wasserman and Dave Hnida. Hnida reports on medical issues for a local television station.

“Especially as we head into redistricting, those are three candidates who could be great for that district,” a Colorado-based Democratic strategist said.

Meanwhile, Tancredo has long been known to covet a Senate seat — and in particular is thought to desire the opportunity to knock off Salazar, whose first term is up in 2010. As such, Tancredo, who waged a long-shot bid for president, could choose to re-emerge on the Centennial State political scene early in the next election cycle.

Republicans viewed as definitive top-tier challengers to Salazar, should he choose to run for re-election, include state Sen. Josh Penry. Penry is said by some Republicans to harbor gubernatorial ambitions.

Former Rep. Scott McInnis, a moderate Republican who still is sitting on nearly $1 million in his old House campaign account and launched before quickly aborting a 2008 Senate bid last year, might also run for Senate in 2010 — particularly if the more conservative Schaffer beats Udall in November. Republicans might also cherry-pick their 2010 Senate candidate from the ranks of current and potential House seat contenders, according to the Colorado-based GOP strategist.

Democrats who could be at the top of the list for Senate the next time an opportunity arises include Rep. Diana DeGette; Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; state Speaker Andrew Romanoff; Fitz-Gerald; and Gov. Bill Ritter, although many Colorado Democrats see him as a future presidential candidate.

In the 1st, 3rd and 7th districts, the Democratic incumbent appears to be in solid shape for re-election for the foreseeable future.

However, should DeGette seek greener pastures and vacate the Denver-area 1st district, the solid Democratic bent of the seat could generate a crowded Democratic primary. Among those who might run and whom Democratic strategists consider to be in the top tier of potential candidates are Romanoff; state Sen. Ken Gordon, who ran for secretary of state in 2006; and University of Colorado Regent Michael Carrigan.

Republicans do not have any candidates in mind here.

In the 3rd district, Rep. John Salazar (D), the brother of Sen. Salazar, has managed to solidify his political standing despite the fact that the district leans Republican.

But Republicans haven’t given up on reclaiming the seat, and this cycle are looking to Delta County Commissioner Wayne Wolfe to oust Salazar. Other Republicans considered good potential candidates for this seat include 2006 nominee Scott Tipton, who is running for a state House seat this year; Penry; state Rep. Ellen Roberts; and state Rep. Al White, who is running for a state Senate seat this year.

“Tipton would be good candidate again; he just picked a bad year,” the GOP strategist said.

Whenever Salazar vacates the seat, Democrats might look to a trio of state legislators to carry the torch there, including state Rep. Buffie McFadyen and state Sens. Jim Isgar and Abel Tapia.

In the 7th district, freshman Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) looks well-positioned for a second term.

Although potentially competitive and held by a Republican for two terms before Perlmutter won the seat in 2006, the suburban Denver district leans Democratic. With 28 open House seats to defend this cycle and a financial disadvantage collectively compared with Democrats, national Republicans simply are not in a position this year to spend the money it would take to make Perlmutter sweat.

That could change in 2010, although at this point Republicans do not have a deep list of potential candidates to run for this seat.

Democrats feel secure with Perlmutter.

But should he unexpectedly vacate his seat sometime soon, they might look to state Rep. Morgan Carroll, or Democrats who previously ran for the 7th district and lost, including former state Rep. Peggy Lamm, who lost to Perlmutter in the 2006 Democratic primary.