PRIMARY 2020 | Takeaways: A good election for Democratic legislative hopefuls could signal a wave in November

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Some takeaways from Primary 2020 for the Colorado General Assembly:

Incumbents did very well, assuming the incumbent was running for the same seat they held before.

That applies in the state Senate primary to Democratic Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, where unofficial results show him with a 9-point win over Maria Orms. It also applies to Republican Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, whose unofficial results show he clobbered Debra Irvine of Breckenridge by more than 25 points.

In the House, incumbent Democrats Rep. Steven Woodrow and Republican Rep. Colin Larson both beat back challengers. Woodrow, who was appointed to his seat back in February, had two challengers but won by 15 points.

In south Jefferson County, Larson’s path required him to beat three-time lawmaker Justin Everett, who sought his old seat. Unofficial results show Larson won by 12 points.

In the San Luis Valley, Democratic Rep. Donald Valdez skated to a 19-point win over Matthew Martinez, in a race where Martinez had support from some of Valdez’s Democratic House colleagues.

However...

If you were a lawmaker running for a different seat — such as four term-limited lawmakers did on Tuesday — the odds were about 50/50.

Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins decided to run for the House seat held by term-limited Republican Rep. Lori Saine of Dacono. But Marble lost, and lost big, by a nearly 2-1 margin to Michael Spencer Lynch of Wellington.

As of Wednesday morning, Saine is holding onto a razor-thin 27-vote lead in a three-way race for a Weld County Commissioner seat. Saine’s lead is just 8 votes over the half-percent margin required for an automatic recount.

Saine’s Weld County colleague Republican Rep. Perry Buck of Windsor handily won her race for an at-large seat on the Weld County Commission, according to unofficial results.

In Boulder County, Democratic State Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont appears to have lost to Marta Loachamin by about 806 votes.

And on the Western Slope, Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction lost in a landslide for Mesa County Commissioner to Cody Davis, by 40 points. However, Scott can still return to the Capitol in January, where he has two years left on his final term.

Neville:

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, along with his friends at Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), went 1 for 6 on Primary Night, following the disastrous 2018 election when House Republicans lost three more seats.

The only win, and it’s a close one, is in House District 47, where Stephanie Luck holds a 293-vote lead over Ron Parker. Luck is backed by folks like Tamra Axworthy of Pueblo, a former HD47 candidate who sources said introduced Luck to Neville.

Tuesday night's losses, especially in Weld County, could spell the end of Neville’s leadership come January, mostly thanks to wins by those who could be called the “Weld County version” of moderates and who all faced opposition from RMGO.

Should they win in November, and those seats are safely Republican, those three — Dan Woog in House District 63, Lynch in HD 49 and Tonya Van Beber in House District 48 — could side with someone expected to challenge Neville for the minority leadership post: Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland.

The caucus has been more or less evenly split between a faction that backs Neville and those who don’t. That schism showed up publicly in early 2019, when the caucus voted narrowly to send Rep. Kim Ransom of Lone Tree, a Neville pick, to the Joint Budget Committee. Those decisions are rarely contested, but Ransom was running against McKean.

The complaints against Neville include how he managed the 2018 election, which put the caucus in a record 41-24 deficit. That’s not expected to improve in November, and at least one other Republican-held seat — House District 38 in Arapahoe County — is a prime target for a Democratic pickup.

Neville lost three leadership votes Tuesday night from Buck, Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Ault and Saine to term limits. With three new members likely to come in on the other side, that could shift the balance to McKean.

Money well spent:

Independent expenditure committees put a lot of money into the 2020 primary for the General Assembly. That's unusual -- they wait until the general election -- but the results Tuesday favored those backed with the biggest bucks spent by the IECs, such as in Weld County and in the Larson/Everett race.

If voter turnout holds for November, that could yield surprising results.

Rankin’s seat is considered safe Republican, but….

The Rankin/Irvine contest drew 18,291 votes as of Wednesday morning. On the Democratic side, Karl Hanlon of Glenwood Springs appears to have won over Arn Menconi of Carbondale. That race drew 18,835 votes. Given the disadvantage Democrats have in voter registration in Senate District 8, that means a lot of unaffiliated voters chose to vote in that race versus the Rankin/Irvine contest.

As of May, 2020, and according to the Secretary of State’s office, the district has 40,638 unaffiliated voters, 28,830 registered as Republicans and 22,585 listing their party as Democrat.

Senate District 27 also shows far more unaffiliated voters than those in either party. The numbers are relatively close to that of SD8, with 40,460 unaffiliated, 30,229 Republican and 28,669 Democrat.

The seat is held by Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who has been a reliably moderate vote in the state Senate, including sponsoring the bill to repeal the death penalty and the measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment.

Hoping to succeed him: former deputy secretary of state Suzanne Staiert on the Republican side and Chris Kolker for the Democrats. Neither were in a contested primary Tuesday.

Tuesday night’s vote count showed 22,306 voted for Kolker and just 13,173 voted for Staiert, again suggesting that unaffiliated voters may have already made their pick.

Even in Senate District 25, which has voted reliably Republican, there is something of a lopsided result. Incumbent Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson won 10,168 votes; his Democratic rival, Paula Dickerson, got 13,408. That’s another seat Democrats would very much like to flip, which combined with winning Tate’s seat would give them a three-seat cushion (21-14) versus the one-seat cushion (19-16) they have now.

Another surprising result is in Weld County, of all places, where the Kirkmeyer/Parchment race in Senate District 23 drew 26,586 votes. The Democratic primary between winner Sally Boccella and Galina Nicoll drew 27,653 votes. That’s also a district where unaffiliated voters make up the largest voter registration, with 56,984 versus 46,116 for Republicans and 32,188 for Democrats.

A warning sign also is flashing for Larson in HD22, where the Democratic challenger, Mary Parker, drew 12,349 votes to 11,922 for the Larson/Everett race.

House District 43 is currently represented by Republican Rep. Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch. But his Democratic challenger, Jennifer Mitkowski, did better on Primary Night, with 11,735 votes to Van Winkle’s 9,295.

The district’s voter registration numbers show a slight edge for unaffiliated voters, at 21,722, with 20,264 registered as Republicans and 13,085 as Democrats.

And in Ransom’s House District 44, her Democratic challenger took in more votes on Primary Night. Kyra Storojev won 10,683 votes versus 10,332 for Ransom, in a district that favors unaffiliated voters but where Democrats have a 10,000 vote disadvantage to Republicans.

The only race where the Republican contest drew more votes is the Luck/Parker race in House District 47, where 8,947 voted for the Republicans versus 8,357 who voted for incumbent Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo.

It wasn't quite perfect: In a primary night where seemingly everything went well, one race result has yet to be even listed on the Secretary of State’s website: Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican, is running for reelection in House District 64, which includes Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Holtorf had no primary opponent, but he’s not even listed on the results page as of Wednesday morning.

This story is from Colorado Politics, a statewide political and public policy news journal. Used by permission. For more, visit coloradopolitics.com.

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