GOP sets sights on state Senate
But primary races for legislature are causing strife
Republicans hope to take back the state Senate for the first time in 10 years with a majority of the 35 seats up for election in November.
But which contenders the GOP selects in key primary races June 24 could make the difference.
At this point, 32 candidates have filed to run for 18 seats. Only four of the races feature primaries — all on the Republican side. And those races are shaping up to be humdingers.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is taking sides in three of those races, all in Jefferson County and all featuring Democratic incumbents. It’s an intra-party battle that has Facebookers chattering, with some lamenting that RMGO’s choices in swing districts cost the GOP seats to Democrats in past elections.
After two Democrats were recalled last fall as a result of gun control legislation, Democrats hold a slim 18-17 majority this year. One of those seats is held by newcomer Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, who was appointed after Sen. Edie Hudak resigned rather than face a potential recall.
Senators serve four year terms, with a maximum of two terms. This election will include two more contests than it typically would because of the two recalls.
Here’s a look at the GOP primary fights:
Senate District 19: Hudak fought off Republican Lang Sais in 2012 by fewer than 600 votes. Now Sais wants to take on Hudak’s replacement, Zenzinger. But so does Laura Woods, who helped in the successful recall effort against Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo and on the attempts to recall Hudak. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is endorsing Woods.
Senate District 16: Former Sen. Tim Neville and Richard Wenzel both want a chance to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Nicholson in this western Jefferson County and mountain counties Senate district. Neville has the RMGO endorsement and a significant financial advantage — with almost $47,000 raised in 2013. Wenzel didn’t raise any money in 2013, while Nicholson raised $64,000. Neville was appointed to the Senate to fill a GOP vacancy in fall 2011 with RMGO’s endorsement. But Neville served only a single session, 2012, because his district boundaries changed in 2012.
Senate District 22: Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez both want to challenge Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr in Lakewood. RMGO is backing Sanchez. Nicolais is the only state Senate candidate planning to petition on to the ballot. He’s backed civil unions in the past – a position that don’t sit well with Dudley Brown, DRMGO’s conservative executive director.
Senate District 20: Art Carlson and Larry Queen are vying to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Cheri Jahn, a moderate Democrat who often sides with Republicans on some issues. Both Republicans filed after the first of the year, so haven’t reported any fundraising, while Jahn raised more than $56,000 in 2013.
There are five races where one Democrat and one Republican have filed to run, with three of those seats open because of term limits or in one instance an incumbent running for a county office.
In two other seats, Democrats are challenging Republicans who won recall elections in Peublo and Colorado Springs last fall.
Former Rep. Mike Merrifield is trying to unseat Sen. Bernie Herpin in Colorado Springs for a four-year term. Herpin, a Republican, took the seat of Senate Majority Leader John Morse after Morse was recalled for his leadership last year passing gun-control laws.
And Rep. Leroy Garcia is challenging Sen. George Rivera in Pueblo in Senate District 3. That district is 45 percent Democratic and only 23 percent Republican.
In another race, a Green candidate is challenging a Republican incumbent Kevin Grantham, of Canon City.
Five Republicans — Sens. Chris Holbert, of Parker; Jerry Sonnenberg, of Sterling; Ellen Roberts, of Durango; Kent Lambert, of Colorado Springs; and Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud — are currently unopposed.
Three Democrats — Sens. Irene Aguilar and Lucia Guzman, and Rep. Judy Solano of Brighton — face no challengers.
Do you live in one of the districts with heavy primary competition? Or a district with a hot race in the fall? Want to share your campaign fliers and information about robocalls? We’d like to see and hear about what’s coming your way as a voter in your district. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to help us track these races.
Check back Friday for a look at how state House races are shaping up.
Meanwhile, check out this chart on the Senate contenders thus far. Contributions include candidate loans; contributions and expenditures are based on downloads from the Colorado Secretary of State. I is for incumbent, C is for challenger and O is for open seat.
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