By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
There’s a reason for Colorado Republicans’ optimism for reclaiming the Colorado House in November 2010.
According to a State Bill Colorado analysis, it’s this: In those districts where one party dominates (defined as 40 percent of total voter registration), Republicans enjoy a 23-20 lead over their rivals, the Democrats.
In Colorado’s 65-seat House, that leaves 22 truly competitive districts. The GOP needs to win just 10 of those seats to gain a 33-32 majority. (Currently, Democrats have a 37-27-1 edge.)
But here’s the rub: Of those 22 competitive seats, 18 are now held by Democrats, and 14 of those are held by Democratic incumbents who are running again.
Thus, Republicans will need to knock off at least two of those incumbents — and probably more.
Put that way, it’s very achievable. But when you consider that it’s January and that Republicans have yet to field candidates in half of those races, it’s more daunting.
A closer look
One key to GOP control will be holding their four currently competitive seats: HD-59 (Ellen Roberts is running in the Senate), HD-39 (David Balmer), HD-30 (Kevin Priola) and HD-22 (Ken Summers). This keeps them steady at 27.
After that, they’ll need six pickups. There are four competitive seats in which incumbents aren’t re-running, at least not under their previous affiliations. In Boulder’s HD-11, Jack Pommer is term-limited. Buffie McFadyen is term-limited in Pueblo’s HD-47. Mike Merrifield is term-limited in Colorado Springs’ HD-18. The fourth district without a Democrat incumbent is HD-61 on the Western Slope. It has an incumbent, Kathleen Curry, but last week she affiliated away from the Democratic Party to undertake a never-before-successful write-in candidacy as an unaffiliated.
If the Republicans manage to take all four seats, it means they need to pick off only two Democratic incumbents for a 33-32 majority. But for each of the above seats that they fail to win (Pommer’s and McFadyen’s will be toughest) the price will be knocking off an additional Dem incumbent.
Incumbents in path
And those 14 Democratic incumbents are: HD-17′s Dennis Apuan, HD-23′s Max Tyler, HD-24′s Sue Schafer, HD-26′s Andy Kerr, HD-27′s Sara Gagliardi, HD-29′s Debbie Benefield, HD-31′s Judy Solano, HD-33′s Dianne Primavera, HD-34′s John Soper, HD-38′s Joe Rice, HD-50′s Jim Riesberg, HD-52′s John Kefalas, HD-53′s Randy Fischer and HD-56′s Christine Scanlan.
Of these, Joe Rice has the district that’s most vexing to the GOP — Republicans have a solid majority in HD-38. But the Army Reserve colonel has won twice here, and he currently has no opponent. For the GOP, the strongest tack may be trying to get Rice to switch affiliations.
Sara Gagliardi also has bested GOP opposition in her district, HD-27, where Republicans also enjoy a registration advantage. For 2010, she does have a GOP opponent.
Of the rest, the top GOP prospects figure to be those 10 districts where unaffiliateds have a registration lead. Those are HD-17′s Apuan (probably the top GOP objective), HD-23′s Tyler, HD-26′s Kerr, HD-29′s Benefield, HD-31′s Solano, HD-33′s Primavera, HD-50′s Riesberg, HD-52′s Kefalas, HD-53′s Fischer and HD-56′s Scanlan. Of these, the GOP so far manages to field candidates in five. (Tyler, Solano, Riesberg, Kefalas and Fischer so far are unopposed.)
In their quest for the Colorado House, the GOP will need to continue to try to find and field credible opponents in House Districts 23, 31, 38, 50, 52 and 53. To keep their lock on the House, the Democrats will need to support and bolster their incumbents while attempting a few pickoffs of their own. Of these, Kevin Priola’s HD-30 is the most likely: Democrats enjoy a strong majority in the district but have so far failed to field a candidate there for 2010.
BOTTOM LINE: If you believe in the strength of incumbency, the 2010 Democrats again walk away with the Colorado House. But if this is an election where voters blame some, or most, of the statehouse incumbents for the state’s problems, Republicans have a shot to regain.