June 9, 2012
The state of Colorado would be a different place if 99 voters in Jefferson County cast 2010 ballots for the Democratic candidate instead of the Republican one.
In House District 29, incumbent Democrat Debbie Benefield lost to Republican Robert Ramirez by those 197 votes, out of more than 25,000 cast. If 99 votes changed hands, a one-vote Benefield win would have handed control the state House of Representatives to the Democrats, who already owned the Senate.
And the Democrats would have been able to ram through any legislation they wished.
Civil unions for same-sex couples, for example, would be law now. But because that narrow win, Republicans have controlled the state House by a single representative for the past two years, with 33 lawmakers to the Democrats’ 32. Civil Unions died by a single vote in a House committee. Lots of other Democratic measures died, too.
Now, the Democrats are fighting take back what they lost, raising the stakes of this year’s House races — including a pair of El Paso County battles that will draw lots of attention and bushels of cash from both sides.
Most politicos take for granted that the Democrats will keep hold of the Senate, where they rule by a five-vote margin. The focus is on the House.
Leaders from both parties named a total of 11 races they consider competitive — five held by GOP, three with Democratic incumbents and three open seats. That’s eight chances for the Democrats to take over the entire Legislature, and six chances for the GOP to build on its 2010 gains.
“We have a lot of opportunities to pick up several seats going into the election, and they have a lot of seats they need to protect,” said House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said in many ways the whole game will come down to who works the hardest.
“The way our candidates break free from that is Communication 101, showing up to voters’ doors, talking to them one on one and persuading them they’re the best candidate,” McNulty said.
In seven of those 11 competitive seats, Republicans have a voter registration advantage.
In five of those, the difference is more than 1,000. In one district, there are 4,000 more active Republicans registered voters than Democrats, and in another, there are 3,000 more.
But the mushy middle will rule the day.
In all of the 11 district there are easily enough unaffiliated voters as to turn the tide for either party. Most districts are what politicos call “a third, a third, a third,” meaning that there are roughly one third Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
In House District 17, Republican incumbent Mark Barker, of Colorado Springs, is facing a challenge from Democrat Tony Exum. In that district, there are 6,035 Democrats, 6,273 Republicans, and 5,890 unaffiliated voters. That adds up to about 18,000 voters.
That math means that the winner will have to appeal to the independent voters, not just their own party.
It’s the same thing on the west side of Colorado Springs, where Democrat Pete Lee is defending his seat against Republican Jennifer George. The district has 1,000 more Republicans than Democrats on the books. But there’s a total of 34,000 voters, with a third of those are unaffiliated.
Both parties are making sure that winning will be expensive.
So far, Lee has raked in $42,000 for his campaign coffers. George has found more generosity. Her donors have chipped in $63,000.
Contact John Schroyer: 476-4825
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