Newell operating serious ground offensive in state Senate race

Democratic candidate Linda Newell is running hard for the SD 26 open seat. (Photo Bob Spencer)
Democratic candidate Linda Newell is running hard for the SD 26 open seat. (Photo Bob Spencer)
A state Senate district in the southern suburbs of Denver wasn’t supposed to be so competitive, but with a strong presidential candidate leading in Colorado, a surge in voter registrations and months of field organizing, Democratic candidate Linda Newell could very well pull off a surprising upset over Republican challenger Lauri Clapp in a contested race that could spell more trouble for Republicans in the West.

On Saturday morning, with only 10 days to go before Election Day, Newell and about a dozen volunteers organized what has been one of many canvassing parities for Senate District 26. Last week alone, it’s estimated that volunteers knocked on more than 650 doors and made more than 2,700 phone calls in the district, which includes parts of Littleton, Englewood and Centennial in Arapahoe County.

Joining the meeting was Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien, elected on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket with Gov. Bill Ritter in 2006, who remarked on what she believed was a changing political landscape favoring Democrats in the state — pointing to Newell as a prime example.

“I remember this district when it was just a slam dunk for Republicans,” O’Brien said, noting that the economy would play a pivotal role in the next legislative session, invoking a need for a candidate with a business history like Newell.

“Everything is going to be around the budget,” said O’Brien.

While working as a human resources consultant part-time, Newell, a single mother who lives in Littleton with two daughters, has also been campaigning around the clock, using free hours to do outreach for her campaign.

“It’s so weird to see my name everywhere,” Newell said, pointing to one of her yard signs.

It’s the first time the Senate hopeful has run for public office of any kind, and the signs are considered necessary by the campaign considering that Newell is going up against Clapp, who has name recognition stemming from her past as a former state House representative in the area and as a city council woman in Englewood.

If Newell does win the competitive district, campaign members believe it will come down to Centennial, a predominantly white suburban area with approximately 103,000 residents. Since July, the campaign has been actively canvassing the doors of unaffiliated voters with a specific emphasis on the city.

As part of the canvassing event on Saturday, Newell went around to more than two dozen unaffiliated households trying to earn votes by emphasizing two specific talking points of her “being the moderate choice” and having bipartisan support from a number of local council members in the district.

“We have no idea what we’ll run into around here,” Newell said while canvassing, happily remarking that the exhausting ground work would soon be over and hopefully be successful.

At least four of the respondents who answered the door said they had voted early for Newell, while there were no households who mentioned specifically voting for Clapp.

To Newell it’s a good sign, but not an excuse to be overconfident.

“I plan to win,” Newell said. “I just can’t envision any other scenario at this point.”

While growing up with a strong Democratic family in California, Newell said she first started canvassing with her parents before she was a teenager, walking around the conservative Orange County neighborhoods near where she lived.

When asked about criticisms that she is not experienced enough for the state Capitol, Newell, who has a history in the nonprofit and small business sectors, pointed out that she has been in contact with many veteran legislators — including Democratic lawmakers Sen. Moe Keller and Rep. Joe Rice — to help with the learning curve.

Inquires to the Clapp campaign requesting a response to Newell’s claims about the race and an opportunity to meet with Clapp have not been returned at this time.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at