In the race for Colorado’s eighth district, two candidates have local roots, and a national spotlight

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Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
U.S. House candidate Yadira Caraveo speaks during a campaign event at the Alianza Business Center in Thornton. Oct. 4, 2022.

When Democrat Yadira Caraveo was growing up in Adams County, her dad was able to support their family of six on a construction worker’s salary, something she sees as increasingly out of reach in the area today.

You know, the suburbs were an area where people from Denver moved when Denver became unaffordable,” said Caraveo, whose parents immigrated from Mexico before she was born. “Now they can't afford to live here, and they're moving to places even further afield, like all the way up to Greeley.”

The new district traces that very route, from Thornton all the way up to Greeley, through booming bedroom communities, farm fields and past thick clusters of oil and gas wells. And its demographics reflect how decades of rising housing costs have pushed many blue collar families, Latinos in particular, out of Denver. The eighth is the state’s most racially and ethnically diverse district; nearly 40 percent of the population is Latino, while another eight percent is Black, Asian American or Indigenous. 

Caraveo, a pediatrician who was elected to the state legislature four years ago, said she hopes to be Colorado’s first Latina member of Congress. But she also emphasized that the needs of people in the district cut across ethnic lines.

“Whether they're part of the Latino community or the more general population of CD-8, really it’s the same things. It's the ability to live here, to provide for their kids, to have access to good healthcare and a good education,” said Caraveo.

The eighth district stands out in another way: it’s Colorado’s most narrowly divided, politically. The state’s new Independent Redistricting Commission prioritized competitiveness when they drew its lines and the result is a district that leans just 1.3 percent Democratic, based on the results of eight recent statewide elections.

Analysts, however, generally expect Republicans to have a slight advantage this year, given that the party out of power historically has had the edge in midterm elections.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Republican state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, campaigning for Congress in in Thornton on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.

The Republican in the race also grew up in the district and is also a state lawmaker.

State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer got her start in politics when she went to her local county commissioner with concerns about the possibility of hazardous waste sites being built near her home, only to be dismissed.

He basically told me it didn't matter. It didn't matter about me, it didn't matter about my community. It didn't matter about us, you know, this is how it was just gonna be,” Kirkmeyer recalled. “And then he told me I was just chasing windmills. And when he said that to me, it just really ticked me off.  And I thought, ‘that's not right. It does matter and you're gonna be really darn sorry when I catch a windmill.’”

Kirkmeyer, who owned a dairy farm and a flower shop at the time, ran for Weld County commissioner herself, and ended up serving on the board for nearly two decades before being elected to the state Senate two years ago. 

On issues like gun control, abortion, government spending and climate, Kirkmeyer and Carveo by and large follow the positions of their respective political parties. Kirkmeyer says she would support a federal abortion ban, while Caraveo was a cosponsor of the state’s new law codifying legal abortion. Caraveo backs the Inflation Reduction Act and the president’s student loan forgiveness program. Kirkmeyer doesn’t; she's worried about how much the government is spending.

It's an issue that impacts all — getting the spending under control, getting the debt under control and start chipping away at that debt over 30 trillion,” she said. 

Kirkmeyer and Caraveo do agree on one thing: when it comes to what voters are concerned about, the top priority is the rising cost of living.

“I’ve been out walking and hitting doors since January of this year,” said Kirkmeyer. “It’s the number one issue that people bring up at birthday parties at backyard BBQs at family gatherings... It’s how much it’s costing for food, for shelter, for energy, for transportation. That’s it.”

With Democrats in power locally and nationally, Caraveo has pushed back against attacks that her party is to blame.

She highlights moves by the Democratic state legislature to close some tax loopholes and reduce health care costs.

I think it's easy to buy into the fear mongering that the other side does, where they point out just the negatives. But it's really important to look at the specifics of what we have done,” she said.

Narrow margins bring national attention

As the campaigns enter their final month, the national interest in the race is clear. High profile members of both political parties have swung through the district to stump with Kirkmeyer and Caraveo. 

California Sen. Alex Padilla, one of the country's highest profile Latino politicians and, like Caraveo, also a son of Mexican immigrants, recently spent the day with her on the campaign trail. 

“She's running in the hardest district in America,” Democratic U.S Senator Michael Bennet told a crowd of supporters when he joined Caraveo and Padilla on one of their stops. “This is the closest district in America. That's because unfortunately — no, this is actually fortunate — we live in a state where we don't have partisan gerrymandering. We do it the right way.”

Another Californian, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican leader in the House, campaigned for Kirkmeyer on Saturday. Press was not allowed to attend.

Lots of national money is also flowing in on both sides. 

As of the last campaign finance disclosures this summer, Caraveo had raised $1.1 million, well ahead of Kirkmeyer, who’d brought in just under $400,000. However the most significant money in the race is from outside groups. Conservative groups aligned with Kirkmeyer have spent nearly $3.4 million dollars boosting her and attacking Caraveo, while those on Caraveo’s side have put in around $2.8 million, according to the website Open Secrets.