Election 2018LegislatureNews

Colo. Dems field candidates in every state legislative race for 1st time in years

Author: Marianne Goodland - April 20, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

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candidatesThe grand staircase in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Photo by istockphoto, gnagel)

If the “blue wave” that some predict comes crashing ashore in Colorado, Democrats want to make sure their candidates don’t miss out on a single legislative race.

The state Democratic Party announced Friday it has placed candidates in every state House and Senate race. The party hasn’t fielded candidates in every race in at least the last four elections and likely going back plenty of years before that.

In 2016, Democrats didn’t have opponents for Republicans in two El Paso County Senate districts and six House districts in El Paso, Jefferson, Mesa (two seats), Garfield and Delta counties.

In 2014, there were no Democrats in five Senate districts. That’s the matchup that most closely mirrors 2018. There is opportunity in at least three of those Senate seats because all three are held by term-limited senators: Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, and Sens. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

That same year, Democrats didn’t have challengers in 11 House seats, in Weld and El Paso counties and in multi-county districts in northeastern and southeastern Colorado.

It’s a sign of the struggle Democrats have had in finding candidates willing to run in entrenched Republican counties like Mesa and El Paso, and also leads to questions about whether doing so this year will be a good use of resources.

Two Mesa County districts — currently held by Republican Reps. Dan Thurlow and Yeulin Willett, both of Grand Junction — have failed to draw Democratic opponents in three out of the last four election cycles.

It’s an even bigger challenge in El Paso County, which has seven state House seats, five of them held by Republicans. The high-water mark was in 2012 when Democrats failed to field challengers in five out of the seven El Paso County House seats. That includes the seat held by Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain, who will face her first Democratic opponent in 2018, on her fourth run for the House.

Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Eric Walker told Colorado Politics that there are several reasons for wanting to have a candidate in every district, even in districts that are longshots.

“You never know when a scandal is going to erupt,” Walker explained, citing the current sexual harassment allegations against Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs. Baumgardner won his two Senate elections (he’s term-limited in 2020)  in 2012 and 2016 with safe margins. But Walker said if Baumgardner were on the ballot this year, “we’d be fielding a strong candidate against him” and against any other lawmakers caught up #Metoo allegations.

The second reason is the impact on other races. Candidates, even in those in districts that aren’t winnable, are working and improving voter information that can be used in the future. Then there’s the enthusiasm that good candidates generate among Democratic voters, who may be more likely to vote and vote Democrat up and down the ballot, Walker explained. “Drawing out loyal Democrats helps everyone.”

The third is that having challengers everywhere is an indicator of enthusiasm, Walker said.

As to the resources it takes to win a campaign, Walker said the party will still make strategic decisions about how and where to utilizes those dollars. “You try to use your resources in the most efficient way.”

Colorado Republican Party spokesman Daniel Cole told Colorado Politics that there are two schools of thought on whether it’s useful to field candidates in races where they stand little chance of winning.

On one hand, if they’re active candidates, they can drum up the vote in the district. “On the other, these candidates divert party resources from other races where candidates stand a better shot. It’s not an unequivocal good,” Cole said.

But whether that’s true this year remains to be seen. In 2014, Republicans fielded candidates in every House and Senate race and narrowed the Democrats’ control of the House from 37-28 to 34-31. That year was also a mid-term election and viewed as a “red wave” year for Republicans.

But the big advantage was in the Senate, where Republicans won a one-seat advantage, including in Adams County’s Senate District 24, which hadn’t elected a Republican for that seat in at least 30 years. That flipped control of the Senate to Republicans, who have held it ever since.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.