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Election forecasters make their calls on Colorado’s congressional races

Author: Conrad Swanson, The Gazette - September 27, 2018 - Updated: 1 hour ago

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Mark Harden / Colorado Politics)

The hotly-contested race for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District in Denver’s suburbs is expected to sway towards Democratic candidate Jason Crow, who is vying to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, election forecasters say.

The state’s next most-contested race is the 3rd District in southern and western Colorado, though Democratic candidate Diane Mitsch Bush is still expected to lose to Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton by a wide margin, forecasters say.

On the other hand, Colorado’s conservative 5th District, which encompasses Colorado Springs, is overwhelmingly expected to retain Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn. And the remaining four congressional districts across the state are also expected to stay in the hands of the party that now holds them.

Nate Silver, editor in chief of the national election forecast blog FiveThirtyEight, tweeted an update to the site’s House predictions Tuesday. The site predicts Crow has an 81.2 percent chance of ousting Coffman, who has held the seat since 2009.

In another prediction, The Cook Political Report, shows the 6th District race is leaning towards a Crow victory. The Center for Politics reiterated that forecast as do mid-September polls from The New York Times, which shows that 51 percent of voters lean towards Crow while 40 percent prefer Coffman and 9 percent remain undecided.

But as Colorado Politics’ Ernest Luning notes in his Sept. 21 Trail Mix column, Coffman has a history of defeating prominent Democrats to retain his seat in his purple district, as he did in 2016 when the district supported Democrat Hillary Clinton over fellow Republican Donald Trump for the presidency.

Tipton, meanwhile, has a 61 percent chance of winning to Mitsch Bush’s 39 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. Predictions from The Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report concurred that Tipton enjoys a safe lead.

The national predictions didn’t surprise Sara Hagedorn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, but she said she’s more sure of Tipton holding his seat than Crow upending Coffman.

“I would not count Congressman Coffman out until the day after the election,” Hagedorn said. “He’s come out ahead in these campaigns before. He’s a hard campaigner. He’s a hard worker.”

The 6th District, which includes Aurora, Centennial and Highlands Ranch, favored Clinton and Barack Obama in the last three presidential elections, and yet Coffman has maintained his seat, Hagedorn noted.

But on the other hand, Tipton’s 3rd District has largely favored Republican presidential candidates in the same three elections, bolstering the congressman’s base, she said.The sprawling district includes Grand Junction, Alamosa and Pueblo.

Mitsch Bush is running a solid campaign, Hagedorn said. But she predicted Tipton wins with 55 percent of the vote.

Democrats Stephany Spaulding and Karen McCormick, vying to unseat Lamborn and Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Ken Buck for Colorado’s 5th and 4th districts, respectively, are long-shot candidates, to say the least, the forecasters believe. Lamborn and Buck were given 98 percent and 97 percent chances of winning their races, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Center for Politics also gave Lamborn and Buck the strongest rating, indicated their seats are very likely safe.

Political experts across the country are predicting huge turnouts for Democratic voters in the November elections, said Matthew Hitt, a political science professor at Colorado State University. But that blue wave would need to be massive to unseat Tipton, let alone Lamborn, he said.

“If the 3rd (District) flips, you could say Colorado is actually having the kind of Democratic if the wave we’ve never seen,” Hitt said. “And if Tipton is a sign of the greatest Democratic wave in Colorado history, I don’t know what defeating Lamborn would be.”

If Lamborn and Buck’s seats are safe, Democratic incumbent U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter’s seats in Colorado’s 1st and 7th districts are already poured in concrete with 99.9 percent and 99.8 percent chances of success, respectively, FiveThirtyEight projects. They are competing against Republican candidates Casper Stockham and Mark Barrington.

Similarly, Democratic candidate Joe Neguse — who is running for the 2nd District seat currently held by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis — is expected to have a 99.9 percent chance of winning over Republican candidate Peter Yu, according to FiveThirtyEight.

While FiveThirtyEight has proven itself “remarkably accurate” over the years, people must still understand what the election predictions mean, said Robert Duffy, another political science professor at Colorado State University. This is especially true since the 2016 presidential election, where Clinton was widely projected to win over now-President Trump.

“To say that somebody has a three-in-four chance of winning is also the same thing as a one-in-four chance of losing,” Duffy said. “That’s not the same thing as a sure thing.”

He noted that FiveThirtyEight gave Clinton a 70 percent chance of winning, which means that she had a 30 percent chance of losing.

Hagedorn said she’ll be watching national politics, which could give insight into upcoming voter trends.

One national news item to watch is Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Hitt said. Since his nomination, Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women.

Those accusations could motivate Democrats, moderates and female voters to support the left, Hitt said. Alternatively, claims that the accusations are merely attempts to assassinate Kavanaugh’s character could draw more conservative voters to the polls, he said.

Conrad Swanson