If the state Senate switches to Republican control next year, Jefferson County will have played an instrumental role.
But whether Republican voters on June 24 helped or hindered their party’s chances of winning two key state Senate races in the fall depends on with whom one speaks.
Republican voters selected the two more conservative candidates in primaries for races in state Senate district’s 19 and 22 – Laura Woods and Tony Sanchez.
Woods will run against Sen. Rachel Zenzinger in a district race that includes Arvada and parts of Westminster. Sanchez takes on Sen. Andy Kerr in a district that covers Lakewood.
Woods and Sanchez’s views on issues are to the right of the political scale of the men who they handily defeated in the primary, Mario Nicolais and Lang Sias.
The Jeffco races will be key in determining which party has control of the Senate, where Democrats have a single vote edge.
But Republican primary voters did not choose wisely in a swing county like Jefferson, says one political analyst.
“It makes it extremely more difficult, bordering on impossible for Republicans to take the state Senate,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst.
But a key player in conservative politics said that analysts overvalue moderate Republicans.
“I reject the ludicrous notion that moderation is the key to victory,” said Dudley Brown, president of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. “If that were the case, we would have President Bob Dole, President John McCain – I shudder at the thought – and President Mitt Romney.”
Woods, who owns a court reporting business, helped gathered petitions to force a recall election against Evie Hudak last year. The former District 19 senator resigned her seat rather than face a recall election, which was spurred by her support of gun control legislation.
Zenzinger – who ran Hudak’s successful re-election campaign in 2012 – was selected by district Democrats to replace Hudak in a district that has an equal party affiliation split.
Woods is pro-life, is against gay marriage and supports school vouchers. She was endorsed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in the primary, which sent out mailing pieces that accused her opponent of taking campaign contributions from a “liberal homosexual activist.”
When asked if she will be able to run on a conservative platform and expect to win in this divided district, Woods answered in the affirmative
“Voters all across our district — Republican and Democrat alike — know that something is wrong,” Woods said in an emailed response. “Energy prices are going up, healthcare costs are going up, the federal government is interfering more and more in local educational matters, and our ability to make decisions about what is best for ourselves and our families is being taken away. “
Zenzinger congratulated Woods on her victory on June 24 and said that voters will have a clear choice come November.
“I encourage the voters to spend time examining our merits and decide who has the proven abilities to fill this leadership role,” she said. “I plan to emphasize my record of collaboration and my record of civic accomplishments, which I think will clearly elevate me in the minds of voters.”
But Sondermann doesn’t think Zenzinger has anything to worry about, come the fall.
“I think Rachel Zenzinger went from being a 50-50 shot to being a prohibitive favorite and close to being able to plan a victory party,” Sondermann said. “It’s a swing district. It can go red or blue, but it will not go crazy. This woman they nominated will not appeal to voters.”
Like Woods, Sanchez is pro-life and supports less government and fewer taxes. Republicans hope that Sanchez – whose family is from Mexico and El Salvador – can appeal to Latino voters in the general election.
“What really made us stand out (in the primary) was we made it really clear where we stood out on a lot of issues,” Sanchez said. “Government needs to get out of our lives. I kept stressing that.”
Sanchez said that he thinks Kerr has vulnerabilities. He is critical of Kerr for being the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. He’s also reminding voters of Kerr’s support for last year’s failed Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes to fund education spending.
“It’s those kinds of pocket book issues that people are wanting to hear about right now,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez was also backed by RMGO, which attacked Nicolais’ support of civil unions in direct mailing pieces. The combination of a no-holds-barred gun group and the possibility of social issues entering the campaign leads Kerr to think that things could get ugly in the fall.
Kerr said that when he ran against Ken Summers in the Senate race four years ago, “everyone I talked to said it was a great campaign that focused on issues, and that it was forthright and respectful.
“I was hopeful we would have another campaign like that, but I’m thinking that won’t be the case this time around,” Kerr said. “I’m disappointed that a small number of extremists have put forward a candidate (like Sanchez).”
Sondermann doesn’t like Sanchez’s chances.
“That was going to be a tough district for Republicans to begin with, now it’s going to be virtually impossible,” he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, thinks candidates like Sanchez and Woods “are more reflective of the values and principles that Coloradans hold and that’s going to be proven in this election.”
“You can label anything you want,” Cadman said when asked if he had any concern that Sanchez and Woods might be too conservative for district voters. “But the reality is the Democratic Party is letting some extreme, out of state liberals lead them away from the people who elected them to govern.
“And the people are paying attention and they are rejecting it.”