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Lawmakers are seen at the Capitol’s Senate floor on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Senate is likely where Republicans have their best shot this year of taking back some control of state government from Democrats after four years in the minority of the legislative and executive branches. 

While the GOP will try to win a majority in the Colorado House and unseat Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, the odds are stacked against them in those two arenas. That leaves the 35-member Senate as the most plausible place to turn the tide. 

Here’s a look at where the battlegrounds will be.

The lay of the land

Democrats now hold a 20-15 advantage in the Senate. 

They are guaranteed 12 seats, with 11 holdovers and one Democratic candidate, Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, running unopposed. 

Republicans are guaranteed eight seats, with seven holdovers and one uncontested race in Senate District 1 on the deeply Republican Eastern Plains, where Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton is unopposed. 

Another five seats up for grabs in November are considered solidly Republican, while three are considered solidly Democratic. 

That leaves seven seats that are possible pick-up opportunities for the GOP, according to Cnalysis, which ranks the competitiveness of state legislative contests. 

The seven critical districts

The seven tossup districts are across Colorado. We have listed them out below.

(The amounts in parentheses are the amount of money each candidate had in their campaign bank account as of June 22.)

  • Senate District 3: This Pueblo seat tilts Republican. Democratic state Sen. Nick Hinrichsen ($26,919) faces Republican Stephen Varela ($14,387), an Army veteran. Hinrichsen was appointed to the seat earlier this year after Senate President Leroy Garcia resigned to take a Pentagon job.
  • Senate District 11: This reconfigured Colorado Springs district tilts Democratic. GOP state Sen. Dennis Hisey ($33,179) moved into the district after being drawn out of his old seat in the once-a-decade redistricting process. He’ll face state Rep. Tony Exum ($9,238), who won his primary contest.
  • Senate District 15: Cnalysis says this district leans Republican. Incumbent Republican state Sen. Rob Woodward ($138,003), of Loveland, will face Democrat Janice Marchman ($30,531), a middle school math teacher from Loveland.
  • Senate District 27: This Arapahoe County district leans Democratic. State Rep. Tom Sullivan ($41,217), a Democrat and gun-regulation advocate, faces Tom Kim ($3,022), a business owner and former lawyer.
  • Senate District 20: This Jefferson County district leans Democratic. State Rep. Lisa Cutter ($41,254), a Democrat, faces Tim Walsh ($22,689), owner of Confluence Builders.
  • Senate District 8: This Democratic-leaning district is based in northwestern Colorado. Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts ($124,176) faces former Eagle City Councilman Matt Soloman ($19,632), a Republican.
  • Senate District 24: This is a Democratic-leaning district in northwest Adams County. Democratic state Rep. Rep. Kyle Mullica ($54,272) faces Republican Courtney Potter ($16,607), an Adams 12 Five Star Schools board member.

Here’s a look at all the 17 state Senate seats up for election this year, with voter registration:

The money

Most of the spending in these races won’t be by the candidates, but rather by the state-level super PACs supporting them. 

In 2018, when Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans after four years in the minority, Republican outside groups spent nearly $8.5 million compared with Democratic outside groups spending $8.3 million on five competitive races. That compared with $1.9 million spent by Democratic candidates in the five contests, while the five GOP candidates spent a total of $631,000.

And in 2020, Democratic outside groups spent $6.1 million compared with Republican outside groups’ $3.3 million.

This year, Republicans have the cash advantage through June 22.

The Senate Majority Fund had raised about $2.6 million to support Republican candidates, while All Together Colorado raised about $1.7 million to support Democrats. 

The national GOPAC Election Fund contributed $560,000 to the Senate Majority Fund and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Colorado PAC contributed $160,000 to the fund.

The national Republican State Leadership Committee recently donated $200,000 to super PAC Unite for Colorado Action. That state-level super PAC spent $1.6 million in 2020, mostly on state Senate contests.

Education Reform Now Advocacy gave $290,000 to All Together Colorado, and Denver philanthropist Merle Chambers gave $250,000 to the group.

It’s likely money will continue to flow into these two super PACs and possibly others as Nov. 8 nears and the battle for the state Senate intensifies.

Sandra Fish is a Colorado Sun contractor who specializes in data journalism and political coverage.