Looking to figure out which party will run the Colorado state Senate next year? Look for the outcome of a handful of Senate races in Jefferson County, plus one in Adams County.
Seventeen state Senate seats are up for election this year. Eight seats are open, meaning no incumbents. Seven of those eight are held by term-limited senators: three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated senator. In addition, one Democrat, Sen. Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs, chose not to run for re-election, so that leaves another open seat for Democrats to defend.
Among what’s left: Republican incumbents are defending seven seats, Democrats, two.
Out of the five Senate races to watch that would determine party control, three are in Jefferson County. Political consultants on both sides believe that two of the three Jeffco Senate seats are still in play, with the Senate District 20 race in eastern Jefferson County as the hottest. That contest is between Democratic Speaker Pro Tem Jessie Danielson and Republican businesswoman Christine Jensen for an open seat.
Still in play but less of a factor: the Senate District 16 contest between Republican incumbent Sen. Tim Neville and Democratic contender Tammy Story, and that race appears to be leaning toward Story.
The single race outside of Jefferson County that also will likely determine Senate control: the Adams County Senate District 24 race between Republican incumbent Beth Martinez Humenik and Democratic Rep. Faith Winter.
Spending by outside groups, as well as the candidates themselves, reveals just where the 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, 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.