Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Will the State Senate Change Hands in the Centennial State?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Colorado.

Back in May, we found that Colorado Democrats - who control both houses in the State Legislature - were undergoing a bit of a rough patch in public opinion. Not much has changed in that time (in fact, it’s only gotten worse for many Democratic leaders there) so we decided to take a look at what exactly it could mean for Colorado’s government after 2010.

Rather than look at statewide offices, we started with the upper house in the Colorado General Assembly, where Democrats control 21 of the 35 seats. In order to take back the State Senate, the GOP would only need to grab 4 districts.

Can they do it?

Seventeen seats in the State Senate will be contested in 2010 - eight of them currently held by Democrats. Of those eight, five will be vacated due to term limits. Obviously, open seats have the most competitive races - so let’s start there.

Of the open seats, three of them (Districts 3, 32, and 34) are pretty safe for Democrats to hang on to. Districts 32 and 34 are both in solid-blue areas of Denver, and District 3 encompasses the town of Pueblo, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one.

The other two open seats, however, will be competitive.

In District 6 (Durango, Montrose) term-limited incumbent Jim Isgar (D-Durango) recently announced resignation upon an appointment to the Obama Administration. Isgar’s seat will be filled by a Democrat until the 2010 election. While Isgar had managed some impressive victories in 2002 and 2006, John McCain won the district with about 51% of the vote last year, and Republicans outnumber Democrats about 40% - 26%. Local Democrats hope that Isgar’s replacement will have enough time to build a name for himself before Election time.

In District 20 (Wheat Ridge, Golden) Democrats and Republicans are about even in registration numbers, and State Sen. Maryanne Moe Keller (D-Wheat Ridge) won this suburban-Denver district by less than half of a percent in 2002. While she did better in 2006 (with about 57%) it’s important to remember she was assisted by the incumbency effect and the fact that 2006 was just a good year for Democrats.

But that’s only 2 seats for the GOP - half of what they need to regain control. They will need to look at knocking-off some incumbents as well.

One place to start is with State Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) in District 11. It’s a relatively competitive seat, and the disapproval of state Democratic leaders could trickle down into this race.

The other vulnerable seat is the large 5th District, where incumbent State Sen. Gail Schwartz won with just under 51% in 2006 - less than a thousand votes. But Republican and Democratic numbers there are fairly even and President Obama won the district with 53.6% of the vote. This is likely to be a very competitive re-election campaign - especially with the poor ratings Coloradans have been giving Democrats lately.

The only other imaginable target would be State Sen. Lois Trochtop (D-Thornton) in the northern Denver suburbs - but after she earned 60% of the vote in 2006, it would be quite the Cinderella story.

Most other seats - including virtually all GOP-controlled districts - are fairly safe for 2010. The State Senate races to watch will be the five races listed above. Republicans - who also aren’t very popular in Colorado these days - will have to really perform well this election cycle in order to win 4 out of those 5 competitive races (one of which is hardly competitive at all).

While it’s too close to call at the moment, it certainly would not be impossible for the GOP to retake the Colorado State Senate - but it will still be difficult.

For more information on Democratic and Republican performance in Colorado, see and

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