Colorado Republicans need to win four seats in the upcoming 2010 elections to win back a majority in the state senate. While such a development remains improbable at the moment, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Of the 35 four-year seats in the chamber, 19 are contested in 2010 (including two for special election). Of those 19 seats:
- 4 are Democrat incumbents facing re-election to a second term
- 4 are open seats currently held by Democrats
- 3 are Democrat incumbents seeking their first election to the seat after filling a vacancy
- 5 are Republican incumbents facing re-election to a second term
- 2 are open seats currently held by Republicans
- 1 is a Republican incumbent seeking his first election to the seat after filling a vacancy
Here’s my amateur estimation a year ahead of the game, based on a mix of conservative and optimistic projections… Of the 8 Republican seats, only one (the open seat in Senate District 2) can be considered reasonably in play. And with the Democrats having to play defense in several other districts (see below), picking up this one should not be too likely either.
Meanwhile, of the 11 Democratic seats up for grabs, 6 are safe, 1 has a Democrat edge to hold, 3 are up for grabs, and 1 is a likely Republican pick-up. Excluding the safe seats, here are the races as I see them in order of probable Republican success (disclaimer: as in everything related to politics, projections like these are subject to change based on a host of factors — please consider this a first read 11 months before the election as a snapshot in time):
1. Senate District 6 (Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan, San Miguel) Current State Rep. Ellen Roberts has the likeliest pickup for Republicans, as she takes on Sen. Bruce Whitehead — appointed to fill the vacancy after popular Jim Isgar secured an appointment with the Obama administration. Republican voter registration edge has shrunk slightly but is still thousands ahead of the Democrats. While party labels don’t seem to matter as much in this southwest Colorado district, Roberts is a known quantity with a major edge. Likely GOP pick-up
2. Senate District 16 (Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson, Summit) Conservative GOP newcomer Tim Leonard is the sole candidate in the field for the moment. The two parties have a near identical voter registration, with the GOP slightly ahead. If Democrat Rep. Christine Scanlan takes the plunge into this race, it drops to at least number 3. Until then, the Republicans fielding a strong candidate have every reason to be optimistic in this region. Toss-up: slight edge GOP pick-up
3. Senate District 5 (Alamosa, Chaffee, Conejos, Costilla, Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral, Pitkin, Rio Grande, Saguache) In 2006 Democrat Gail Schwartz very narrowly toppled incumbent Republican Lewis Entz. Yet while she brings incumbent status to the table herself in 2010, the political environment figures to be a lot better for the GOP. And challenger Wayne Wolf has established some name recognition as a Congressional candidate in 2008. (Fellow Republican Bob Rankin is not on the official candidate list as of November 19.) The difference in Republican and Democrat registrations is razor thin here. Toss-up
4. Senate District 20 (Jefferson) The mighty Moe Keller has stepped down, giving Republicans hope in this west Denver suburban district again. Democrat Keller narrowly won the seat against Steve Jensen in 2002, but (as in most senate districts across the state) the registrations have shifted from the elephants to the donkeys in the past seven years. Republicans are fielding a credible candidate in John Odom. If he goes up against moderate former Rep. Cheri Jahn, it will be a tough challenge. If liberal Dave Ruchman beats Jahn in the primary, however, this race should jump as high as number 2. Toss-up: slight edge Dem hold
5. Senate District 11 (El Paso) Republican incumbent Ed Jones lost this seat four years ago to Democrat John Morse, and now the GOP hopes to turn the tables with an upset of their own. While not yet listed as an official candidate, Owen Hill appears to be the first (and possibly the only) Republican out of the gate. It will take a lot of hard work and some favorable winds for Hill or another Republican to unseat Morse. But if the Democrats are sweating out this race next fall, you also can bet they will be sweating out their majority status in the Golden Dome. Edge: Dem hold
Since political armchair quarterbacking makes a great spectator sport, tell me where I’m wrong. Next up (hopefully within the week)… a similar early analysis of state house races.