Colorado’s blue wave not only put Democrat Jared Polis into the governor’s mansion — it also appears to have given him a Democratic-controlled state Senate for his first term in office.
As of press time it appeared that all five Senate seats most prized by both parties will go to the Democrats. It would be the first time that women Democrats outnumbered men in the state Senate.
Incumbent Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail appeared poised to win the West Slope Senate District 5 contest against Republican Olen Lund of Paonia, with a 19 percentage point advantage for Donovan.
Jefferson County had three of the five prized seats. In Senate District 16 — south Jefferson County, including Littleton — incumbent Sen. Tim Neville appeared headed toward defeat, with Democratic challenger Tammy Story leading by 11 percentage points.
Senate District 22, which includes Lakewood, is an open seat, being vacated by the term-limited Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr. Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen, who faced some of the ugliest ads of the campaign season from her Republican opponent, Tony Sanchez, held a 13 percentage point advantage.
Senate District 20 was believed to be the closest contest of the night. It’s an open seat, currently held by term-limited and unaffiliated Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge. Early returns showed Democrat Jessie Danielson leading Republican Christine Jensen by 10 points.
The fifth seat was held by Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik in Adams County, who faced Democratic Rep. Faith Winter. Early returns showed Winter with a 10-point lead.
Democrats also defended a seat in Colorado Springs held by Sen. Mark Merrifield; early returns showed Democratic Rep. Pete Lee with a better-than-20 percentage point lead over Republican Pat McIntire.
Republicans held onto the seat being vacated by term-limited Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City. Republican Pete Hisey holds a 30-percentage point advantage over his Democratic opponent, Beth Harz.
Democratic Sen. Steve Fenberg of Boulder headed the strategy for the state Senate sweep for Coloradans for Fairness.
“We pretty much performed in the way we said we wanted to,” Fenberg told Colorado Politics Tuesday evening. “It feels really good to execute a pretty amazing program and to have candidates who will work their butts off no matter what the climate. They came out on top even bigger than people thought they would.”
With women in the majority in the Democratic caucus of the state Senate, Fenberg said it means “we’ll have better laws passed in Colorado.”
The five Senate races drew unprecedented amounts of campaign cash, especially in the waning weeks of the election season. More than $7.5 million was spent by outside groups on the five races, including $4.5 million on the Danielson/Jensen and Martinez Humenik/Winter races.
Spending by outside groups, as well as the candidates themselves, revealed just where a last-minute push was headed.
In the most recent campaign finance reports from Oct. 29, independent expenditure groups had spent more than $7.6 million on the five key Senate races. But outside groups backed by both parties spent $2.07 million just on the Martinez Humenik/Winters race and another $2.54 million on the Danielson/Jensen race.
The other two races that appear to be out of the reach of Republicans:
Senate District 22, primarily Lakewood. That contest, between Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Republican Tony Sanchez, is all but certain to go to Pettersen, according to observers.
The same appeared to be true for the Western Slope race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail and Republican challenger Olen Lund of Paonia, with Donovan expected to be the winner as election day approached.
But should both of those Democrats win, it doesn’t shift the balance of power since the Senate District 22 seat is held by a term-limited Democrat.
In all five of the contests seen as key to Senate control, the Democratic candidates have outraised and outspent their Republican opponents by huge margins:
- Story raised $517,000 to Neville’s $216,000.
- Danielson took in $405,000 to Jensen’s $135,000.
- Pettersen raised almost $200,000 more than Sanchez.
- Donovan dwarfed Lund’s campaign fundraising by $228,000 to $31,000.
- Winter raised $437,000 to $117,000 for Martinez Humenik.
- What else may determine Senate control: How unaffiliated voters cast their ballots.
In all five of the Senate districts that are the most in play for November, active unaffiliated voters outnumber voters from all political parties, including Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have picked up voters in all five of the districts in the last four years, while Republicans have added to their numbers in three of the five and by far smaller numbers. But unaffiliated voter numbers grew substantially in all five districts between 2014 and 2018.
Finally, primary performance, because all of the candidates ran unopposed in June, could give a hint of how things will go Tuesday night. In all five races, the Democrats drew more votes than their Republican challengers.