Kernels of Truth: Markey, Benefield and State House ’08

It’s time for another bowl of “Kernels of Truth.”  Here’s what’s popping this week:

  • Betsy Markey Nears CD-4 Decision
  • Benefield Stays Put
  • Handicapping the ’08 House
  • Potential Republican Candidate in CD-2
    The Democratic field for congress in CD-4 (Ft. Collins, Greeley) is getting crowded, and it might soon add a fourth member to the field.

    Betsy Markey, Regional Director for Sen. Ken Salazar’s North Central Office in Fort Collins, told Colorado Confidential on Wednesday that she was nearing a decision on running for congress.

    “I’ll probably be making a decision in the next couple of days,” she said. “I’m leaning towards running.”

    Colorado Confidential first reported Markey’s potential candidacy in April, but since then she has been overshadowed by the announced candidacies of Angie Paccione and state Sen. Brandon Shaffer.

    Incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave won re-election last fall with the lowest winning percentage of any congressional winner in the country, and now Democrats are lining up for a shot at Musgrave in 2008. Paccione is already active in raising money for a repeat run, and Shaffer has also announced his plans to run (as first reported by Colorado Confidential) amid news of a poll showing him to be the Democrats’ best choice . Those two join former Reform Party candidate Eric Eidsness, who switched parties to the Democratic side earlier this year with designs on running again in ’08.

    Markey, 51, is a businesswoman and a former chair of the Larimer County Democratic Party (2002-05). Markey indicated on Wednesday that she was leaning toward running for congress, though she was careful to say that she hadn’t made a final decision.

    “I’m very familiar with the people and the issues in the fourth district,” said Markey. “I feel like my experience in government, and also my background as a business owner, would make me a strong candidate.”

    If Markey does become a candidate in CD-4, she said that she would resign her position with Salazar in order to focus on campaigning.

    Two-term Democratic Rep. Debbie Benefield (HD-29, Arvada) had long been expected to run for state senate in 2008 when incumbent Sue Windels (SD-19) was term limited, but Benefield told Colorado Confidential this week that she was planning to stay in the House.

    “I know everybody expected me to run for that seat, but I believe the House has done some great work in the last two years, and I really appreciate being part of that,” said Benefield. “I believe the House has demonstrated a true vision for Colorado, and I’d like to continue working on issues like making sure that every child in Colorado has a quality education.”

    As first reported by Colorado Confidential, state board of education member Evie Hudak will run for Windels’ senate seat in 2008. Hudak will face a primary from John Giardino, a retired dentist who had his eyes on Benefield’s House seat when it was believed that she would move up to run for the state Senate.

    Giardino should be a familiar name to budget analysts; he is the same Giardino listed in the so-called “Giardino lawsuit” that requires Colorado to spend money to update school buildings around the state.

    Benefield’s decision to stay in the House should have strategic implications for Democrats and Republicans alike in 2008. Benefield survived a tough re-election challenge from Republican Affie Ellis in 2006, but Republicans will likely put forward their best candidate for the Senate rather than try to take out the entrenched Benefield in 2008. While Democrats will only need to defend one open seat next year rather than two, they will likely have a tougher time holding the Senate without a candidate such as Benefield who has strong name ID in the district.

    Benefield’s decision to stay in the House will make it easier for Democrats to keep control of at least one seat, but will the rest of the field shake out in 2008?

    For an early look at the race for control of the state House in 2008, Colorado Confidential asked a veteran Democratic campaigner to assess which seats will likely serve as the major battlegrounds. While a lot can change between now and November 2008, Joe Miklosi, State Director for the organization Progressive Majority* and the former director of the Democratic House Majority Project (2003-04), believes that Democrats will ultimately keep control of the state House…and may even gain a seat.

    Miklosi anticipates that three freshman lawmakers will be heavily targeted by Republicans: Sara Gagliardi (HD-27, Arvada), Dianne Primavera (HD-33, Broomfield), and John Kefalas (HD-52, Fort Collins). All three Democrats upset Republican incumbents in 2006 and represent seats that are traditionally held by the GOP.

    “If I were the Republicans, those are the seats I would go after,” says Miklosi. “And I’m sure they will.

    “As a freshman your name ID is not that good, and Republicans think that those three candidates are probably more progressive than the makeup of their district.”

    Democrats currently hold a 39-26 majority in the House, and two potential pickup opportunities will make it tough for Republicans to gain ground. Miklosi points to two House districts that may be particularly ripe for the picking: District 22 (southern Jefferson County) and District 17 (Colorado Springs).

    “Both districts are trending more Democratic over the last couple of election cycles,” says Miklosi.
    House district 22 could be the Democrats’ best chance of gaining an extra seat, according to Miklosi.

    Democratic performance numbers in the district – calculated from the average performance of every Democratic candidate, from President on down to dog catcher – have moved from 43 percent to 46 percent over the last three election cycles. In the race for an open seat last November, Republican Ken Summers defeated Democrat Jayson Haberkorn 53-47.

    In HD-17, Republican Mark Cloer defeated Democrat Christine Varney 57-43 last fall, but Cloer resigned in January to work in the congressional office of Rep. Doug Lamborn. Cloer was replaced by Stella Garza Hicks, who was virtually invisible during her first session in the legislature. The district has shifted from a 43 percent Democratic performance to 45 percent over the last three election cycles, and because it contains a large concentration of military bases, the actual number of voters is significantly fewer than the registered voters; the advantage there, says Miklosi, is that HD-17 is an easy district to cover when walking door-to-door, which helps a challenger to connect with voters.

    As for other potential battlegrounds in the state House, Miklosi says that he doesn’t expect to see a strong challenge to Republican Ellen Roberts in Durango (HD-59) because of her moderate credentials, and despite an open seat in HD-57 (Rep. Al White is term-limited in the Western Slope district), the district has trended less favorable for Democrats in recent years.

    Republicans have other potential targets in 2008, but Miklosi doesn’t expect to see strong challenges to Democrats such as Benefield, Jim Riesberg or Buffie McFadyen.

    “Joe Rice (HD-38) would probably be fourth on the Republicans’ list (after Gagliardi, Primavera and Kefalas), but they’ve got to be thinking that Joe is starting to look tougher with his strong military background,” says Miklosi.

    One possible GOP target is Rep. Wes McKinley (HD-64, Eastern Plains), although Miklosi doesn’t think that he is particularly vulnerable. Nevertheless, “I’ve heard that [GOP Chair] Dick Wadhams has been out to Wes McKinley’s district three times to look for a candidate,” says Miklosi.

    When all is said and done, 2008 could be another good year for Democrats in the state House.

    “I think Dems stay even or possibly gain one seat,” says Miklosi. “I think districts 17 and 22 can be very competitive, and the House Majority Project incumbent protection program is pretty strong.”

    *Progressive Majority is a political organization that recruits, trains, and elects fiscally responsible and socially progressive municipal candidates throughout Colorado.

    Republicans are keeping an eye on the Democratic primary in CD-2, where Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, millionaire Jared Polis and environmentalist Will Shafroth will face off in a busy primary. The hope among Republicans, as discussed previously in Kernels of Truth, is that the primary will be divisive enough to produce a “Lamborn effect”:

    I’m told they could try to field a strong candidate in 2008 in hopes that the Democratic primary will get as nasty as the 2006 Republican primary in CD-5. Doug Lamborn emerged from a bitter six-way primary last summer as a damaged candidate, which created an opening for Democrat Jay Fawcett to draw more votes than any Democrat in years in that Colorado Springs district.

    If the same scenario repeats itself in 2008, albeit from a Democratic perspective, a tough Republican candidate could be in position to steal the seat.

    Who could that Republican candidate be? I’ve heard unconfirmed rumors that Mark Sexton may consider running. Sexton is the former CEO of Evergreen Energy (he left the company this spring) who could potentially tap into his personal wealth to finance a run for congress.

    Sexton could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

    That’s it for now. For tips, rumors, gossip or just to chat, drop me a line at

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