Here’s a quick rundown of the top five races in Colorado (excluding ballot questions; we’ll cover those later) in less than 200 words:
Governor’s race: Democrat Jared Polis v. Republican Walker Stapleton
THE NARRATIVE: The two major candidates easily won their primaries, picked little-known lawmakers as their running mates and then spent the summer shifting their messages from ones that appeal to their party base to ones that appeal to the middle when it comes to health care, education and more.
The parties began testing lines of attack — Polis is a Boulder radical and Stapleton is extreme and a Trump ally — but nothing changed the basic math of the race.
Polis remains the presumptive front-runner as the deep-pocketed millionaire running in an election year that favors Democrats in a state that has elected one Republican governor since 1975.
WHAT TO WATCH: Both candidates start from a weak position, struggling to connect with voters and answer questions about how they will actually accomplish (and pay for) their priorities if elected. The candidates can do better, or the campaigns can go negative and turn the races into a lesser-of-two-evils scenario.
THE BIG QUESTION: Will the party heavyweights — Donald Trump on the GOP side and Barack Obama on the Democratic — hit the campaign trail in Colorado and elevate the race to national prominence?
State Senate: Republicans look to hold one-seat majority
THE NARRATIVE: Forget the run for governor, or even the 6th Congressional District. The race with the most impact — and attention — is expected to be the battle for control of the Colorado Senate.
Democrats face a difficult challenge to flip power and must win four of the five battleground seats (Districts 5, 16, 20, 22, 24). Put another way, Republicans need to win only two to keep control of the chamber. The oil and gas industry and other prominent business organizations are working to keep the GOP in power as a counterweight to a potential Democratic governor and Democratic House.
WHAT TO WATCH: The campaign tactics both parties use to win will come under significant scrutiny after the involvement of Cambridge Analytica in the state Senate battles in 2014. Expect huge sums of dark money and questions that linger for whichever party wins.
THE BIG QUESTION: Which race will emerge as the lever of power: The headline-worthy battle between Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and Democratic Rep. Faith Winter, or a sleeper race, like the one between Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson and Republican challenger Christine Jensen?
6th District: Republican Mike Coffman v. Democrat Jason Crow
THE NARRATIVE: Observers have said Colorado’s 2018 elections will say a lot about the future of politics in the Centennial State.
No race encompasses that ideological struggle more than the face-off in the 6th Congressional District, where a five-term incumbent in Coffman, the Republican, is trying to hold onto his seat against Crow, a first-time Democratic candidate. Coffman is trying to keep his job by selling his bipartisanship while Crow, a Denver lawyer, is touting his military background and calling for a new voice in D.C.
WHAT TO WATCH: Crow will work hard to link Coffman to the White House and Trump, and Coffman will attack Crow’s record as an attorney in a race that’s already getting chippy. “(Coffman’s) biggest liability is he is a Republican in a tough year for Republicans,” said Dick Wadhams, a former chair of the Colorado GOP. “But he’s overcome that liability before.”
THE BIG QUESTION: Can Coffman separate himself enough from Trump to hold onto his seat, or is the “blue wave” large enough to carry Crow to a victory and Democrats to control of the U.S. House?
Attorney General: Republican George Brauchler v. Democrat Phil Weiser
THE NARRATIVE: This race will decide how Colorado pushes back, or doesn’t, against the Trump administration’s policies and potentially the oil and gas industry.
The state has not elected a Democrat attorney general since Ken Salazar held the job from 1995 to 2005. And Republicans are running a candidate who is considered a future face of the party.
WHAT TO WATCH: Brauchler, a Republican and the 18th Judicial District Attorney, is painting Weiser, a Democrat and former dean of the University of Colorado Law School, as being inexperienced compared to his own years prosecuting criminals. Weiser, a first-time candidate, is having to fend off these attacks while trying to explain to voters the importance of having a Democrat as attorney general versus “electing the king DA.” The messaging in this race will be key.
THE BIG QUESTION: Brauchler has been in the limelight for years as a rising GOP political star in Colorado, but he knows this is a tough election cycle for Republicans. Will this be a referendum on Trump or a battle over who can keep the state safest?
Treasurer: Republican Brian Watson v. Democrat Dave Young
THE NARRATIVE: The down-ballot statewide races often receive little attention. But the race for Colorado treasurer is a prominent step to bids for higher office (see Walker Stapleton, Cary Kennedy, Mike Coffman, Bill Owens, etc.).
And it’s an important role when it comes to the state pension system and the potential for transportation bonds. Only one Democrat since 1995 (Kennedy) has won the seat, and Young starts from a disadvantage as a little-known state lawmaker from Greeley. Watson, the Republican candidate, may tap his own deep pockets to help him win this race.
WHAT TO WATCH: The state pension system is the most high-profile issue for the office, but the General Assembly reached a bipartisan deal to overhaul PERA. Whether there’s any juice left on the issue — and how motivated state employees get — may determine whether the race can emerge from the pack.
THE BIG QUESTION: Neither candidate is well known and neither will draw headlines, so the race is expected to become a question about which party is more motivated to vote their party’s ticket.
This story first appeared in The Colorado Sun’s politics newsletter, The Unaffiliated. You can subscribe here: cosun.co/theunaffiliated