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Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District, which stretches from the northern Denver suburbs along U.S. 85 into Greeley, could be the most competitive U.S. House district in the nation next year. 

The race to represent the 8th will likely draw national attention and millions of dollars as Democrats try to defend their slim majority in Congress and Republicans gear up for a big push to take back power.

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan election prognosticator at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the 8th District is the only U.S. House district in Colorado that his organization rates as a toss up. 

“If this type of national environment persists (with President Joe Biden’s approval in the low 40s), it could be closer to ‘leans Republican,’” he said.

Given the district’s national importance next year, we decided to take a deeper look at its electorate:

A small share of active, registered voters

The 8th District has the smallest share of active registered voters of any of Colorado’s congressional districts, at 428,307. 

Districts are drawn based on population, not registered voters, meaning that the 8th District has a large number of children or people not interested in getting involved in the political process. There also may be people in the district who are ineligible to vote, such as those living in the U.S. unlawfully. 

By comparison, the Colorado district with the most voters is the 7th District, with 526,424 active registered voters.

The 8th District has the largest percentage of Hispanic people of any of Colorado’s U.S. House districts at 39%.

In terms of voter registration, 44% of the active registered voters in the 8th District are unaffiliated, 28% are Democrats and 25% are Republicans.

“This is a more working-class part of the Denver metro,” Coleman said. “So I don’t think, longer term, it’ll rocket leftward, like (the 6th District) did last decade.”

Alvina Vasquez, a Democratic political consultant, said the district is filled with a lot of families who have been pushed out of Denver as the cost of living in the capital has risen. Those voters are focused on kitchen-table issues like jobs, the cost of housing and education. The oil and gas industry is a big issue in the district, both in terms of its environmental impacts and the number of people it employs.

Tyler Sandberg, a Republican political strategist who has worked in the district, said the 8th District’s Democrats are different from Democrats in Denver and Boulder. They’re less progressive.

“CD8 is the Dems’ worst nightmare because, yes, it’s a swing district, but it’s blue collar,” he said. “They are not dyed-in-the-wool, limousine liberals.”

Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, a Democrat who used to hold a competitive state House seat in Greeley that’s within the 8th District, said a moderate candidate will fare best in the district. “I don’t think extreme approaches are going to work — on either side of the aisle,” he said.

Young is confident a Democrat can win.

“I do think that is a very winnable race for Democrats,” he said.

A map of Colorado’s 8th Congressional District. (Screenshot)

Past election results reveal a mixed bag

An analysis by nonpartisan redistricting staff of the results of eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020 found that the 8th District leans 1.3 percentage points in Democrats’ favor. But a closer look at the results from those three election cycles reveals some interesting numbers.

In 2016, voters in the district backed the reelection of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, by a margin of 2.3 percentage points, but they also voted for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by a margin of 1.7 percentage points.

In 2018, voters in the 8th District backed Republican attorney general candidate George Brauchler by a margin of 1.7 percentage points, but voted in favor of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis by 1.9 percentage points and backed the Democrats running for treasurer and secretary of state by slightly wider margins.

In 2020, the district backed Democrat John Hickenlooper in the U.S. Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percentage points. Hickenlooper beat incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner by 10 percentage points statewide.

The bottom line is that 8th District voters appear to be fickle.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of about 3,000 supporters during a rally in Grand Junction Colo., Tuesday Oct. 18, 2016. Trump was supported by voters in the 8th Congressional District in 2016, who also backed Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet that year. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Sandberg drew parallels between voters in the 8th District and voters in Pueblo, who in 2016 backed Trump but voted for Biden in 2020. “Culturally, it’s a very different battleground than Democrats have been operating in,” he said of the 8th.

Vasquez thinks the Pueblo comparison is a fair one. But the 8th District has a population about seven times greater than Pueblo’s.

“Obviously the population is a lot bigger so it’s going to be a lot more diverse than Pueblo,” she said.

The takeaway for Coleman, who works at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, is that that district will remain competitive well into the future.

“I can see this being a swing seat for several more cycles,” he said.

Where are the district’s population centers?

The district is spread across Adams, Weld and Larimer counties. Adams County has the largest share of the population in the district, at 456,000, followed by Weld at 248,000 and Larimer at 17,000.

Thornton is the city with the largest population in the 8th District, at 141,000, followed by Greeley at 108,000. Then there’s Westminster, at 71,000, Commerce City, 62,000, Brighton, at 39,000, and Northglenn at 38,000.

What are the pundits saying?

Let’s start with Coleman, the national elections prognosticator.

“The race could end up a tug of war between Democrats in Adams and Republicans in Weld,” Coleman said. “Given the district’s large Hispanic population, I’m interested to see how that vote breaks down next year. Probably more importantly, it could be a test ground for both parties’ outreach to minorities.”

He thinks state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, would give the GOP the best chance of winning the seat. Priola hasn’t announced a bid for the seat but is rumored to be considering one.

“But even if he doesn’t run, with the area’s blue-collar demographics, I wouldn’t rule out a strident conservative — like Lori Saine — getting elected in a favorable national climate,” Coleman said, referencing a Republican former state representative who recently announced a bid in the district.

Young, the state treasurer, thinks unaffiliated voters in the district won’t vote the same way ones in Denver and Boulder do, which is to say they often vote for Democrats.

“My guess is they are truly up for grabs,” he said.

Who are the candidates so far?

On the Democratic side, running are:

The Republican side of the race is getting crowded. Already in the contest are:

The primary election will be held June 28.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 2:31 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, to correct the spelling of Ryan Gonzalez’s name.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....