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Politics and Government

Incumbents, slate backed by super PAC cash head to victory in run for Colorado statehouse

Weld Republican says it’s “a new chance for the conservative effort in Colorado.”

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Five incumbent state lawmakers appeared poised to hold off primary challengers Tuesday, while candidates backed by big outside money took the lead in four open seats in Weld County. 

Nearly $1.6 million in cash poured into eight highly contested seats, often supporting Republicans, and occasionally Democrats who were viewed as more middle-of-the-road. The success of those candidates, especially in Weld County, could bring an end to the leadership of House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Douglas County Republican seen as allied with forces, including Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, that supported the losing candidates.

For the primary winners, most of those seats are considered safe in the November general election.

Here’s a look at what happened in the top legislative contests as of 8:15 p.m. and nearly 60% of the vote tallied statewide:

JeffCo HD22 incumbent holds on after “family values” attacks

Leading with 56% of the vote in his Jefferson County-centered district, incumbent Republican Rep. Colin Larson appeared to survive a challenge from former GOP Rep. Justin Everett in a contest that drew nearly $359,000 in outside money. Most of that cash supported Larson and opposed Everett, who left the House District 22 seat in 2018 in a failed bid to become state treasurer. 

Colin Larson

But some of the most contentious messages in the contest were aimed at Larson, with both Everett and a newly formed super PAC claiming the incumbent doesn’t support “family values.” Meanwhile, outside groups portrayed Everett as ineffective in his six years as a lawmaker.

Voter Joseph McGinnis, who is 68 and retired, showed up at the Jefferson County South Service Center to vote for Larson.  “I know him. I don’t know the other guy,” McGinnis explained. 

Larson will face Democrat Mary Parker, of Littleton, who is making her fourth run for the seat. House District 22 is the only remaining Republican seat in Jefferson County’s legislative delegation. 

Candidate cash dominates Denver contest

Incumbent Rep. Steven Woodrow appeared on track to retain the Denver House District 6 seat he was appointed to earlier this year after fending off two challengers with about 46% of the vote. 

Woodrow and his challengers, Daniel Himelspach and Steven Paletz, spent more than $366,000 in the primary contest, with half of that coming from their own pockets. All three are lawyers.

Paletz spent more than $108,000 of his own cash, including advertising on cable TV. Himelspach spent nearly $60,000 and Woodrow spent about $18,000. 

Woodrow is favored to defeat Republican Bill McAleb in November in this highly Democratic district.

Insurgent candidates win hotly contested Weld County seats

Ugly personal attacks on a slate of candidates for an open state Senate seat and three open House seats apparently didn’t drive voters to their opponents. Instead, the candidates attacked in anonymous emails appeared headed for sizable wins.

Education consultant Tonya Van Beber, of Eaton, had 57% of the vote in her House District 48 race against oil industry worker Grady Nouis, of Milliken. Outside groups spent nearly $314,000 on the race, most of it supporting Van Beber. But some mailers brought up Nouis’ past criminal record.

Sen. Vicki Marble, of Fort Collins, was losing to Windsor businessman Michael Lynch in the House District 49 seat that includes parts of Weld and Larimer counties. Lynch had 66% of the vote in the early going. Outside groups spent more than $276,000 in the contest, most of it supporting Lynch.

Former Erie Trustee Dan Woog had 63% of the vote in his House District 63 contest against Pat Miller, who served in the House in the early ‘90s, and a write-in candidate. Super PACs spent more than $210,000 on the southern Weld County race, mostly supporting Woog.

Barbara Kirkmeyer

And Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer had 56% of the vote against political newcomer and Windsor businessman Rupert Parchment in Senate District 23, which includes parts of Weld and Larimer counties as well as Broomfield. Marble previously held the seat.

“I think that the electorate is ready for new faces and new ideas and a new way of negotiating,” said Calida Troxell, treasurer of the Weld County Republican Party. “I think it’s a new chance for the conservative effort in Colorado.” 

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a group considered to the right of the National Rifle Association and closely allied with House Minority Leader Neville, supported Marble, Nouis, Miller and Parchment. 

Each of the GOP winners will face Democrats in November, but the seats are considered Republican strongholds.

Two appointed Senate incumbents cruise to victory

Republican Sen. Bob Rankin and Democratic Sen. Chris Hansen, both former House members recently appointed to replace incumbents, were defeating their challengers Tuesday. Rankin was appointed in 2019 and Hansen in January.

Rankin, a retired Carbondale businessman who represents Senate District 8 in the central mountains, had 56% of the vote to defeat Breckenridge artist and GOP activist Debra Irvine. She portrayed herself as more conservative than Rankin, and she put more than $32,000 of her own cash into the contest.

State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, speaks at a news conference March 28, 2019. He is a member of the Joint Budget Committee. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Joint Budget Committee member Rankin received more than $114,000 in support from super PACs. In November, he’ll face Karl Hanlon, a Glenwood Springs lawyer who had 57% of the vote over Carbondale’s Arn Menconi. The district is a considered safe Republican seat.

Hansen defeated engineer and military veteran Maria Orms in Senate District 31, which includes central and southeast Denver and part of Arapahoe County. Orms campaigned as the progressive candidate, and spent nearly $27,000 of her own money, while outside groups spent more than $144,000 supporting Hansen.

In November, Hansen, who had 56% of the vote, will face Republican Doug Townsend, though the seat is considered to be safely Democratic.

Democratic incumbent may survive in San Luis Valley

State Rep. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara. (Handout)

It appeared Democratic Rep. Don Valdez, a La Jara rancher, will be back for a third term in House District 63 in the San Luis Valley. He had 60% of the vote in early returns over Matthew Martinez, a retired Marine from Alamosa.

Valdez outspent Martinez nearly $12,000 to about $7,000. But Martinez received endorsements from traditional Democratic groups, with Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado spending more than $8,710 supporting him.

Valdez will likely face Republican Logan Taggert in November, but the district is considered solidly Democratic.

Disabled vet aims for possible Democratic pickup in Arapahoe County

David Ortiz, a disabled veteran, nonprofit manager and lobbyist, defeated small business owner Candice Ferguson in the Democratic primary in House District 38 based in Littleton. Ortiz had 66% of the vote.

He’ll face Republican Rep. Richard Champion, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year.  The seat is considered a possible pickup for Democrats by at least one analyst.

Ortiz outspent Ferguson by $60,500 to $9,400, and received endorsements from several Democratic House members.

Meanwhile, public policy professor John Ronquillo was in a close contest with mortgage broker Naquetta Ricks in the Democratic primary for the open House District 40 seat based in Aurora. Outside groups spent more than $117,000 supporting Ronquillo, who led by 165 out of 9,369 votes shortly before 8 p.m.

The winner will face Republican Richard Bassett in November in what is considered a safe Democratic seat.

Jennifer Brown contributed to this report.


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