Colorado 2010 State Senate Showdown: GOP Challengers Gain Momentum

It’s been a long time since I offered up rankings of the Colorado state senate races most likely to switch party hands this fall. Now that the latest voter registration numbers are available, campaign finance reports are in and the legislature is out of session, it’s time to take a fresh look.

Just for review, there are 35 seats in the Colorado state senate, and Democrats possess a decisive 21-14 advantage. State senators serve four-year terms and only come up for election every other cycle, unless there was a vacancy filled and a special election is needed. Nineteen of the 35 seats are up for grabs in 2010: 11 held by Democrats and 8 held by Republicans. Five of the Democrat-held seats and all but one of the Republican-held seats are not competitive, leaving four Democrat incumbents, two Democrat open seats and one Republican open seat in play.

In late January I forecast based on trends that Republicans would pick up 2 or 3 seats in the November election — putting them close to the majority, but just out of reach. This time trends look even more favorable for the GOP, putting as many as 4 seats (and the majority) in the balance. Races are rated in order of probability that the outside party will wrest control:

1. Senate District 6 (Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan, San Miguel) – DEM Prev rank: 1 Republican state representative Ellen Roberts now has a primary opponent from the Right in Dean Boehler, who shocked southwestern Colorado with a 2-to-1 victory at the April assembly. But appointed Democrat Bruce Whitehead has less than half the cash on hand as Roberts, and active voter registrations favor the GOP by a margin of 40 to 29. Likely GOP pick-up

2. Senate District 16 (Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson, Summit) – DEM Prev rank: 2 Conservative Republican businessman Tim Leonard made quite a dramatic statement by raking in $39,000 in the past quarter to reach $52,000 cash on hand — leaving both his Republican primary rival Mark Hurlbert and Democrat Jeanne Nicholson in the dust. Keep an eye on the Republican SD 16 assembly on May 21. Likely GOP pick-up

3. Senate District 20 (Jefferson) – DEM Prev rank: 3 Last month’s Democratic assembly highlighted the deep divisions between the two candidates seeking to replace Moe Keller: moderate former representative Cheri Jahn edged liberal Dave Ruchman by a very narrow margin, 91-89, despite heavy establishment support. Ruchman has $18,600 and Jahn $10,200 to wage a heated primary while Republican John Odom is all alone sitting on $50,000 in a district with a small Democratic edge but a lot of unaffiliated voters up for grabs. Leans GOP pick-up

4. Senate District 11 (El Paso) – DEM Prev rank: 5 Young rising GOP star Owen Hill has a clear field and nearly $30,000 after a strong fundraising quarter in a very closely divided district — one third Democrat, one third Republican, one third unaffiliated. The challenge? Facing Democratic majority leader John Morse, who is only $10,000 behind in cash on hand at the end of session but who recently decided to rip into Amazon on a now infamous video. Tossup: slight edge GOP pick-up

5. Senate District 5 (Alamosa, Chaffee, Conejos, Costilla, Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral, Pitkin, Rio Grande, Saguache) – DEM Prev rank: 4 The GOP actually has a small registration edge in this large mountain district, but incumbent Democrat Gail Schwartz cast some savvy votes, has more money than any other state legislative candidate ($82,700), and has two Republicans battling it out in Bob Rankin and Wayne Wolf. Tossup: slight edge Dem hold

6. Senate District 24 (Adams) Prev rank: N/A Any other year I doubt this race would break the list, as incumbent Democrat Lois Tochtrop gets a 2006 rematch from Luis Alvarez. But keep it on the outer edges of your radar screen. Likely Dem hold

7. Senate District 2 (Baca, Bent, Crowley, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Las Animas, Otero, Pueblo) – REP Prev rank: 7 A field of three Republicans — Kevin Grantham, Matt Heimerich and Talon Canterbury — has lined up to fill the shoes of the GOP’s retiring state senator Ken Kester. Right now, any of them looks like better odds than the two late-entry Democrats Gloria Stultz and John Webb, neither of whom has reported raising a dime. Likely GOP hold

Stay tuned, as tomorrow I plan to release the updated rankings of state house races.


  1. says

    Great post, Ben. Re: SD 16. I did a detailed blog post that analyzes the fundraising of Leonard and Hurlbert in detail. The post provides links to the SOS Tracer pages so you can see individual contributors.

    Tim Leonard raised more money in the quarter than any other GOP state Senate candidate by far. Tim received 280 separate donations, Hurlbert only 39. And of those 39, five were from Ali Hasan and four family members and seven were from the Hurlbert clan (but notably not from Mark himself or his wife – they invested nothing in his campaign). The Hasans all contributed the $400 max, and their $2,000 was about 20% of Hurlbert’ total fundraising. So apart from his wealthy patron and his family and his wife, Cathy Cheroutes’ Dem activist family, Hurlbert raised only $5,000 from 27 donors in over three months of “campaigning.” Tim had 89 donors from SD 16, Mark only 9.

    Readers should click on the link you provided to the Summit Daily. This is the first time they covered Tim Leonard at all, or subjected Hurlbert to questions, instead of just publishing his unedited press releases. Hurlbert is on the defensive, as he’s asked to respond to Tim’s answers about reducing the size of government.

    Hurlbert sounds like a Dem. He claims he hasn’t seen anti career politician sentiment out “campaigning.” Really? Hurlbert brags that he’s balanced seven government budgets, and says Leonard hasn’t proven himself a fiscal conservative since he hasn’t managed government budgets. Of course Tim has managed large budgets for years for his business, has a masters in finance, and actually had to earn the revenue side of those budgets, instead of just asking compliant Dem county commissioners for it. (One of Summit’s three Dems endorsed Hurlbert, another contributed to his campaign). Hurlbert also endorsed a lib Dem for Breck council, who lost, and who sought to impose a lift ticket tax to “create jobs.”

    My post contains a lot more about Hurlbert’s budget increases, his lobbying work that increased his own pay 37.5% from 2008-2010, and the appearance of impropriety of a sitting DA accepting money from Hasan, given that Hurlbert admits he conducted a criminal investigation of Hasan in 2008. The Dems would have a filed day with this and Hurlbert’s weak record on violent crimes against women.

    In this week leading up to the district Assembly on May 21, Hurlbert is now labeling himself the “common sense Republican,” whatever that means, since Hurlbert doesn’t explain it.

    He generically touts his years as a DA (the only job he’s ever held), but wisely doesn’t discuss his performance as DA. Despite Ali Hasan’s view that he’s “the best DA in America,” the most charitable characterization would be mediocre. Hurlbert’s latest high-profile prosecutorial bumbling is a taxpayer-funded felony prosecution of two women mountain bike racers for alleged cheating in the 40-49 age group in a race in Leadville. and

    This inventive case made almost all the Colorado news outlets this past week, with at least 80 percent of commenters critical. My more detailed articles have been picked up by major national legal and other blogs, and have garnered over 6,000 views. Again, the comments on those sites and my own are overwhelmingly critical of this novel government criminal law incursion into amateur sports.

    Leonard is the common sense fiscal conservative. He is not unelectably “far right” as some have tried to paint him; he is far more concerned about constitutional rights and anti nanny-state than Hurlbert, which will resound well with Summit and Boulder voters. Tim’s success shows party brass that electability in 2010 requires a candidate who’s not a career politician and who is committed to dramatically reducing the size of government. Electability also demands a candidate who campaigns hard and smart, and shows results.

    Delegates can send Tim Leonard straight into the general election on May 21 to spend all his money and energy fighting the lib Dem opponent, without a draining and pointless primary battle that Leonard would in all likelihood win anyway.


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