Opinion

? Noonan: The May-Priola Senate race could be the linchpin for both parties

Author: Paula Noonan - November 1, 2016 - Updated: October 31, 2016

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

As it turns out, the 2016 general election in Colorado will probably follow the recent trends of presidential election cycles, with two exceptions that may help Republicans hold the state Senate.

The most important numbers to watch are ballot returns. As of time of publication, Democrats have turned in more ballots than Republicans. That’s especially bad news for Republicans in several close state Senate races and for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in his run against state Sen. Morgan Carroll. Democrats have a much stronger ground game than Republicans, which shows in shifting voter registration and the ballot chase.

In 2014 state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada) defeated then state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, who took over for state Sen. Evie Hudak, who resigned in the wake of her votes for stronger gun control. Zenzinger lost by 663 votes.

Since that election, the registration numbers in Senate District 19 have reversed. In 2012, Republicans led Democrats in registration by 850 active registered voters. Now, Democrats lead Republicans by 925 active voters. So far this election, Zenzinger has collected $224,332.36 in contributions, with Woods at $143,631.54.

Zenzinger has gathered her larger contributions from the trade unions and various education associations. Woods has pulled in money from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and business associations. One donation to Zenzinger should particularly worry Woods: Anadarko Petroleum pitched in $400 to the former senator.

State Sen. Linda Newell’s seat, Senate District 26, might have been a nail biter. State Rep. Daniel Kagan is facing off against Arapahoe County Commissioner and former County Clerk Nancy Doty. Democrats in 2012 led in active voter registration by 714, but now lead by almost 3,000. Newell won the seat by about 6,000 votes in 2012.

Doty is putting up stiff competition at $167,783.41 in contributions. But Kagan has raised $233,077.08 and has strong union backing, meaning solid get-out-the-vote leverage.

If there’s a race that may save Republican Senate control, it could be for Senate District 25, Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge’s seat, in which former House Rep. Jenise May (D-Aurora) is running against current House Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson). Hodge won the seat in 2012 by over 7,500 votes. But the spread between Dems and the GOP has declined by 209 active voters since 2012, and May unexpectedly lost her re-election bid in 2014.

May has outraised Priola at $178,886 to $135,617. Both parties recognize the significance of the race, with Colorado Dems throwing in $14,974 and the Colorado Republicans giving $8,544. Like Zenzinger and Kagan, May will have a strong ground game, but Priola is a popular Republican representative who may be able to offset the gusting winds from the Trump presidential campaign.

Republican state Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) won a tough battle in 2012. This seat in southern Colorado has flipped in active voter registration from Democrat to Republican. Sheriff James Casias is a worthy opponent, but Crowder has almost double the contributions and is well liked for his more moderate Republican positions. He could be a role model for future Republican candidates on how to win elections.

For Democrats to turn the state Senate, Zenzinger, Kagan, and May have to defeat Woods, Doty and Priola. It’s likely that Crowder will defeat Casias. The ballot chase will tell the tale.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.