Colorado State House Breakdown: Plenty of Tough Races Up for Grabs

On Tuesday I shared an update of the state senate rankings and concluded that Republicans still have a good shot at recapturing the majority (at least before the Scott McInnis fiasco unfolded, the effect of which on down-ticket races remains to be seen). It’s time to update the state house rankings, and there are a few changes to report.

All 65 seats are up for election this fall, but only about 20 to 30 of the seats have a competitive challenger. Most of those seats currently belong to Democrats, and the Republicans — needing a net gain of six seats to hold a true majority — are poised to take advantage. Will the GOP win the majority? Possibly. As it stands now, the numbers suggest Republicans will pick up between 5 and 8 seats. Without further ado, here are the latest rankings of contested races, based on the likelihood of switching party control:

1. House District 38 (Arapahoe, Jefferson) – DEM Prev rank: 3 This south suburban enclave remains the most heavily populated Republican district represented by a Democrat. Now that GOP challenger Kathleen Conti has grown competitive in fundraising and continues to work hard, there’s no reason this race should be anywhere but the top of the list. Leans (almost likely) GOP pick-up

2. House District 27 (Jefferson) – DEM Prev rank: 1 Not because she has begun pretending to be a fiscal conservative, but because liberal incumbent Democrat Sara Gagliardi has picked up some slack in fundraising, this race drops a notch. Still, all odds favor Republican Libby Szabo to win this seat. Leans GOP pick-up

3. House District 47 (Pueblo, Fremont) – DEM Prev rank: 2 The Democratic field has cleared for teachers union president Carole Partin, which improves the party’s odds of holding this open seat. But Republican Keith Swerdfeger has done a solid job of fundraising and maintains the edge. Leans GOP pick-up

4. House District 33 (Broomfield, Boulder, Adams, Weld) – DEM Prev rank: 4 Republican Don Beezley remains on track to unseat Rep. Dianne “Tax on a Fee” Primavera, though the incumbent has upped her odds slightly of hanging on. Leans GOP pick-up

5. House District 17 (El Paso) – DEM Prev rank: 5 Victorious at the Republican Assembly, Republican and retired law enforcement officer Mark Barker has his sights set on vulnerable Democratic officeholder Dennis Apuan in a district that leans more conservative than nearly any other with a Democratic plurality. Leans GOP pick-up

6. House District 18 (El Paso) – DEM Prev rank: 7 An open seat due to term limits, this race between Democrat Pete Sandford and Republican Karen Cullen is shaping up to be very competitive. This one may end up deciding the majority. Tossup: slight edge GOP

7. House District 56 (Eagle, Summit, Lake) – DEM Prev rank: 6 Quite possibly this could end up being the closest state legislative race of the season, as a heavily unaffiliated vote will decide the winner. Incumbent Democrat Rep. Christine Scanlan has overcome her early fundraising deficit to Republican challenger Debra Irvine. Tossup

8. House District 29 (Jefferson) – DEM Prev rank: 9 Rep. Debbie Benefield has begun building a warchest to defend her evenly-divided suburban district. But simply put, GOP challenger Robert Ramirez shows no signs of going away. Improved fundraising totals very well could help put him over the top. Tossup

9. House District 64 (Otero, Las Animas, Prowers, Huerfano, Baca, Bent) – DEM Prev rank: 10 Republican hopeful Lisa Grace Kellogg is putting pressure on maverick Democrat Rep. Wes McKinley with a substantial amount of coin in her campaign coffers. Tossup

10. House District 23 (Jefferson) – DEM Prev rank: 8 Democrats are rallying to support embattled Rep. Max Tyler while GOP challenger Edgar Johansson has to be careful not to let the fundraising battle get away from him. Tossup: slight edge Dem hold

11. House District 50 (Weld) – DEM Prev rank: 12 Republican Bob Boswell will need all the help he can get from prevailing political winds to topple well-funded incumbent Democrat Rep. Jim Riesberg. Leans Dem hold

12. House District 53 (Larimer) – DEM Prev rank: 13 The demographic numbers put this Fort Collins seat in play, but the district is a daunting challenge for the GOP’s Dane Brandt as he seeks to defeat Democratic Rep. Randy Fischer. Leans Dem hold

13. House District 59 (La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, San Juan) – REP Prev rank: 14 The most vulnerable Republican seat on the list, because Democrat Brian O’Donnell has accrued more campaign funds than any other contender for a competitive state house seat ($47,000-plus) . After several GOP candidates for this seat have come and gone, Republican J. Paul Brown owns the charge of holding HD 59. Leans GOP hold

14. House District 31 (Adams) – DEM Prev rank: 15 Voter registration demographics suggest this north metro seat should be in play, but GOP hopeful Tom Janich has a negative balance in his campaign account. Defeating teachers union favorite Rep. Judy Solano looks like a longshot. Leans Dem hold

15. House District 61 (Garfield, Pitkin, Gunnison, Eagle, Hinsdale) – UNA Prev rank: 20 Unaffiliated (and formerly Democrat) Rep. Kathleen Curry is waging a write-in campaign to retain her seat. And new Democratic candidate Roger Wilson makes it a three-way, vote-splitting race. Other than these wildcard factors, bringing this seat into the Republican column will be a tough chore for former U.S. Senate candidate Luke Korkowski — unless he can start raising some dough. Leans hold

Off the list? House District 52 (Larimer): Republican Bob Morain filed for the race this week as a last-minute replacement for Fort Collins councilwoman Aislinn Kottwitz, who at the end of June announced she was dropping out. Morain has a steep financial disadvantage to overcome to be competitive with incumbent Rep. John Kefalas.

2010 is the kind of year where the numbers just might not tell the whole story. In that spirit, here are a few wildcard races to keep your eye on. A victory for a Republican challenger in one of these might be taking place under the radar. Some pundits might be shocked, but you, faithful reader, shouldn’t be (incumbent names in ALL CAPS):

  • House District 1 (Denver) – Republican Danny Stroud vs. Democrat REP. JEANNE LABUDA
  • House District 3 (Denver) – Republican Christine Mastin vs. Democrat REP. DANIEL KAGAN
  • House District 34 (Adams) – Republican Brian Vande Krol vs. Democrat REP. JOHN SOPER

Fight the good fight. Expect the unexpected.

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