Colorado Votes: The Congressional ‘Safe Seats’

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Campaign bracelet supporting Repubilcan Danny Stroud [Photo: CPR/Ben Markus]

We’re looking at Colorado’s Congressional races as part of our “Colorado Votes” election coverage, and two of those races were over before they started. Denver’s first district hasn’t elected a Republican since the ‘70s. The fifth district in Colorado Springs has never sent a Democrat to Congress. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus reports on these so-called safe seats.

Reporter Ben Markus: It’s less than six weeks to Election Day, but you could be forgiven for not knowing who Republican Danny Stroud is.

Danny Stroud: Hi, my name is Danny Stroud, and I’m running for Congress.

Reporter: Stroud recently spent an afternoon introducing himself to would-be voters at Arapahoe Community College. He’s running against nine-term Democratic incumbent, Diana Degette, for the 1st Congressional district seat in Denver. And he’s well aware of the odds against him.

Stroud: Sure, everybody tells me that everyday, I hear that ten times a day.

Reporter: But Stroud believes that a change is needed in Congress. He says DeGette has been a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama. He thinks government spending is out of control and Obamacare must be repealed. The West Point graduate says that’s worth fighting for.

Stroud: If you don’t fight and you don’t defend, then you have no backbone. It’s about moral courage, it’s about fighting for what you believe.

Reporter: The problem is, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here 2-1. A Republican hasn’t held this seat in 40 years, and that was for only one term. As of the last campaign finance reports, Stroud had less than $400 in cash on hand, compared to Degette’s $164,000. But those advantages don’t stop DeGette from campaigning a little. At a town hall meeting on Monday, DeGette rattled off a list of bills she sponsored, that passed. One helps alleviate drug shortages; another gets experimental drugs to patients in need.

Diana DeGette: That’s why I’m happy to say I actually had accomplishments this year in Congress, and they were all bipartisan accomplishments.

Reporter: But she has no big TV ad blitzes planned, nor is she a target for well-financed Super PACs. C-U Boulder Political Scientist Scott Adler studies Congress and says the safe seat affords DeGette some luxuries, like her laser focus on the relatively obscure issue of stem cell research.

Scott Adler: She has been able to pursue this issue, in some ways freed from the constraints that she might otherwise have if she was running for reelection in a more competitive seat.

Reporter: And since she doesn’t need all the campaign money she raises, she’s formed a PAC, originally called the Stem Cell Action Fund. She says it allows her to donate to other candidates.

DeGette: Well, if I can help people who agree with my ideas, like supporting stem cell research, elected then that helps me push those ideas through the Congress.

Reporter: Farther south in Colorado Springs, Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn doesn’t appear to be campaigning at all right now. This is what you get when you call the campaign headquarters.

Phone message: The full and cannot accept messages at this time...goodbye.

Reporter: And his campaign website lists no events through Election Day. That's part of what inspired Dave Anderson to run as an Independent against Lamborn. He says the three-term Congressman has been nonexistent in the district since winning a hard-fought primary this summer. Anderson says he and the Green Party candidate, Misha Luzov, attended a recent energy symposium in Woodland Park.

Dave Anderson: Of course Congressman Lamborn was invited, and did not.

Reporter: Anderson has only about $6,000 cash on hand; Lamborn has five times that. And Lamborn is a tried-and-true conservative. He regularly receives the highest ratings for his conservative voting record, whether it be for gun rights or cutting federal spending. And that’s probably good enough to win a Congressional seat that no Democrat or Independent has ever held.

[Photo: CPR/Ben Markus]

Full list of 1st District candidates:

Frank Atwood, Libertarian

Diana DeGette, Democrat

Thomas Juniel, Unaffiliated

Danny Stroud, Republican

Gary Swing, Green Party

Full list of 5th Distrtict candidates:

Dave Anderson, Independent

Kenneth Harvell, American Constitution Party

Doug Lamborn, Republican

Misha Luzov, Green Party

Jim Pirtle, Libertarian