HD 1: The Race To Watch In Denver

Democrat Diana DeGette will be reelected to Congress from Denver’s 1st Congressional District over the Green party candidate who opposes her.  Democrat Chris Romer will easily win the Senate District 32 race, Denver’s only contested state senate race in a safe Democratic seat vacated by Dan Grossman.Democratic Speaker of the State House Andrew Romanoff, who has perhaps the most effective campaign operation of any politician in the state, will easily dispatch his Republican opponent in House District 6 in Denver.  And, incumbent Democrat Jerry Frangas will easily prevail in his contested race for House District 4 in Denver – in 2004 Frangas got more than 75% of the vote in a race against the same opponent.  House Districts 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9 in Denver are uncontested.

The race to watch in Denver is between Democrat Jeanne Labuda and Republican Aimee Rathburn in Southwest Denver’s open House District 1.  The seat also has three registered voters in nearby Jefferson County and a significant presence in Arapahoe County, particularly in Sheridan.

Voter Registration

House District 1 isn’t an easy race for a Republican.  September 2006 voter registration numbers were 38% Democratic and 28% Republican, with the remainder unaffiliated or affiliated with third parties. 

Prior Elections

In 2004, incumbent Democrat Fran Coleman won 61% of the vote in a race against Republican Dave Lewis, taking not just the Democratic party vote but a disproportionate share of the unaffiliated vote.  The seat was uncontested in 2002.  In 2000 (with somewhat different district boundaries), incumbent Democrat Fran Coleman won 59% of the vote in a race against a Republican John Gonce and Libertarian Dwayne Smilanich.

In both races Coleman outperformed the performance that would be expected by voter registration alone, suggesting that the unaffiliated voters in the District lean to the Democrats.

Of course, Republicans tend to do better in off year elections, since Democratic turnout falls more than Republican turnout in off years.  Also, unlike Fran Coleman, Labuda is not a familiar incumbent.

No public polling is available in the race, but there haven’t been any rumors of internal polls showing Labuda in trouble in the race either.

Money

This time, though, Aimee Rathburn is taking the race very seriously.  As of October 11, 2006 she had raised $39,554 (in addition to $7,020 of in kind contributions) and had $22,865 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile Labuda has raised $33,305 (in addition to $230 of in kind contributions), has borrowed $45,000 for campaign purposes, and had $15,065 in cash on hand.  Of course, Labuda fought both a primary election in which she prevailed, in addition to the general election.

Thus, Labuda is lagging slightly in money raised and cash on hand (not an unusual for a Democrat) but has spent considerably more money in the race due to money loaned to the campaign, primarily, if not exclusively, from Labuda herself.

The money invested in this open race, targeted by Denver Republicans because it is the only race in which they have any chance to win in Denver, is what makes it a race to watch.

The Candidates

Labuda, a Democratic party activist, and retired teacher, federal bureaucrat and Assistant Attorney General for the Colorado Attorney General’s office was the more moderate candidate in the primary.  She is running on the bread and butter issues of funding for health care and education, favors comprehensive immigration reform, and has a special interest in the well being of police and firefighters.

House District 1 includes Denver’s “cop town” a suburban like area in Denver proper favored by many police and firefighters who were subject to strict residency rules when they moved in.  It is Denver’s answer to Staten Island in New York City.  The Northern part of the District has a large Hispanic population, a fairly recent phenomena.  The Arapahoe County part of the district is an economically struggling, predominantly white, first ring suburb of Denver.

Aimee Rathburn is a paralegal who has also been very active in the community and civic organizations, is married to a police officer, and spent four years as a lobbyist for the Colorado State Shooting Association.  One of the first achievements she notes on her website is her fight to stop “the City of Denver’s attempt to relocate a wildly disproportionate share of its low-income housing to area neighborhoods.”  But, she is also strongly against the use of eminent domain powers to “increase the tax base”, for example, to combat urban blight.  Her pitch to put more money in the classrooms in education echos this year’s conservative backed, teacher opposed ballot issues J and 39.  She too favors immigration reform. 

Given that both candidates are women, a decisive gender gap in voting is unlikely, something that has been a death knell for other Republican candidates.  The fact that both candidates support immigration reform and strong support police and firefighters also defuses any effort to play a race card in this race.

Endorsements and News Coverage

The Denver Post has endorsed Democrat Labuda, while the Rocky Mountain News, as it has in almost every competitive contested race in the state, has endorsed the Republican, Rathburn.

The race received very little media attention of any kind after the primary was over.

Bottom Line

House District 1 is clearly the most competitive candidate race in Denver and probably won’t be a landslide on election day.  But, it will likely by won by Democrat Jeanne Labuda.  Aimee Rathburn needs about two-thirds of the unaffiliated vote to pull off a win.  She will have spent less on her race than Labuda, even though she has spent a credible amount.  While both candidates have credible resumes and big newspaper endorsement, nothing tilts the balance decisively in favor of Rathburn.

In a year where the winds of change were clearly in favor of the Republicans or some scandal rocked the district, Aimee Rathburn might be able to pull off her underdog attempt to flip this Denver House District.  But, this isn’t such a year.  Indeed, Bill Ritter’s lopsided lead in the Governor’s race may actually discourage Republican voters whom a recent poll has shown are much less enthusiastic about this election than Democrats, providing coattails to candidates like Labuda.

Assuming that both candidates give their full efforts to this race for the next three weeks, there don’t seem to be any factors in place great enough to overcome the natural tendency of the district to favor a Democrat.

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