When election results start rolling in next Tuesday night, nearly all eyes will be on the top of the ticket – who ends up winning in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
But how much the next governor actually achieves will have a lot to do with whether his party also controls the state legislature. And that means there’s a lot riding on races much lower down the ballot: for state House and Senate.
After losing two of their members to recalls last year, Democrats go into this election with only a single vote majority in the state Senate.
In their quest to retake the chamber, Republicans have focused their efforts on six seats, trying to oust five Democrats in politically-mixed districts in Jefferson and Adams counties, and win an open seat in the mountains.
Democrats are hoping to hold those districts and take back the two seats they lost to last year’s recall. In both those districts, in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Democrats hold a registration advantage.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, describes the effort to win those seats as “all-out political warfare.”
Map: Green color shows top contested state Senate seats
A fight to the finish
With early returns showing Republican voters have turned in 100,000 more ballots than Democrats so far statewide, party leaders are sounding optimistic, but still cautious.
“This is going to be a fight to the finish,” says Cadman.
Democrats predict their voter numbers will surge in the final days before the election.
“This is the trend that you always see: Democrats vote late. I don’t know if it’s in our DNA or what,” said Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who admitted Thursday that his ballot was still sitting at home.
With four of the competitive Senate seats in located in Jefferson County, Democrats say their chances have been helped by the recent controversy around a proposal by the Jefferson County School Board to change the AP history curriculum.
“This is the number one conversation people are bringing up at the doors,” says Andrew Short with the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund. “They are fired up about the JeffCo School Board.”
Democrats have tried to capitalize on the controversy with mailers connecting Republican Senate candidates with the school board.
More races, less at stake in House
All 64 seats in the state House are also up for election this year, but with Democrats currently enjoying a nine-seat advantage, few see much likelihood of a Republican takeover.
“Realistically, we’re shooting to narrow the margins,” said House Republican whip Polly Lawrence. “This is a long-term process.”
The battle for Colorado’s House is receiving some national attention. Last month GOPAC, a Republican 527 organization, announced it was putting money into four competitive House races.
While House Democrats say they’re working hard to get all of their members reelected, they don’t sound concerned about the final outcome.
“We feel very, very confident,” said Ian Silverii with the Democratic House Majority Project.