Top campaign stories of 2010–You had to see it to believe it

This was a year of surprises in Colorado politics, from the announcement that Governor Ritter would not seek re-election to the paper-thin victory of sitting Senator Michael Bennet over Tea Party favorite Ken Buck, Colorado went months without a dull moment.

Here then, are our Top Campaign stories of 2010.

6) GOP wins treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general races

While we put this story in last place, one could argue the point. Simply put, Republicans dominated the down-ticket statewide races, winning all three contests by strong margins.

In the attorney general’s race, Democratic challenger Stan Garnett got in the race, he said, primarily as a response to incumbent John Suthers decision to join other Republican AGs from around the country in challenging the constitutionality of health care reform. Whether Suthers’ 220,000 vote victory means Coloradans want out of the health care bill is not so clear.

The other races, while closer, were even more curious. In the secretary of state’s race, Republican challenger Scott Gessler defeated incumbent Bernie Buescher handily even though attorney Gessler has made much of his living representing Republican candidates in a variety of campaign finance cases. Do voters want less oversight of candidates and more oversight of individual voters? Again, not that clear.

While many thought incumbent Treasurer Cary Kennedy was one of the better state treasurers in the country and a rising star among Colorado Democrats, she too lost–if only by 2.5 percent. The winner? Walker Stapleton, scion of the Bush-Stapleton clan and a man with a nasty DUI in his past–the facts of which suggest a possible hit and run.

If voters were sending a message in any or all of these races, it may simply have been that Colorado remains a Republican-leaning state. Democratic victories at the top of the ballot may suggest that in those races Republicans simply failed to execute. These wins may also mean that Coloradans vote Republican unless they have a good reason not to.

5) Republicans gain majority in Colorado’s congressional delegation

While the results in Colorado’s seven congressional races were not exactly surprising, some of the margins were.

Three utterly safe seats stayed that way, with incumbent Republicans hanging on to HD 5 and 6 by 30-40 point margins and Democrat Diana DeGette winning re-election in HD 1 by nearly 40 percent.

Rep. Jared Polis went a long way toward cementing HD 2 as a safe Democratic seat with a 20-point win while Rep. Ed Perlmutter also pushed HD 7 a little closer to being a safe Democratic seat with an 11-point win over Ryan Frazier.

It may not have been much of a surprise for Republican Cory Gardner to knock off incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey in the predominantly rural HD 4, but the fact that he won by more than 12 percent was an eye-opener. Republican Scott Tipton’s win over incumbent John Salazar by nearly 5 points was probably the only true upset. Salazar is already talking about a rematch, though there are also indications he may accept a position in Governor-elect Hickenlooper’s administration.

It will be more than a little interesting to see how redistricting will change the dynamic. It’s a pretty safe bet that districts 1, 5 and 7 will gain voters, while 2, 3 and 6 will lose voters. The question, as always, is which districts will become more competitive as a result.

4) Republicans win the state house

Going into this election, Democrats held a 37-27-1 majority in the State House of Representatives. After the election, Republicans hold a 33-32 majority. While numerous incumbent Democrats lost–some by substantial margins–in the end it came down to 197 votes, with incumbent Debbie Bennefield of Arvada losing to Republican Robert Ramirez of Westminster.

Even though Democrats still hold a 5-seat majority in the Senate, and kept the governor’s office, the shift in the house marks a major victory for the GOP in Colorado. While there has been lots of talk about an Arizona-style immigration law, more lenient rules for the oil/gas/minerals business and a hard line on taxes and fees, the truth is that with one chamber in Democrat hands and the other in the hands of Republicans, most bills that reach the governor’s desk are likely to be centrist and have broad bipartisan support.

3) The primary loss of Andrew Romanoff

He noted during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate that he and incumbent Michael Bennet were pretty close on the issues. Nonetheless he chose to challenge a sitting incumbent from his own party.

He campaigned primarily on one issue: campaign finance reform. He said he wouldn’t take PAC money but when it looked like he had a shot he acknowledged he would take money from the Democratic Party if he won the nomination–but said he would ask the Party not to give him money it had gotten from PACs. That was a tough sell.

He gave impassioned stump speeches and sent detailed position papers to the press. He’d been a very popular Colorado Speaker of the House. In the end, though, it may just have been too hard to beat an incumbent.

Had he just sat that one out, he might well be the front-runner for Denver mayor today. He told The Colorado Independent that he has no regrets, but still…

The top two campaign stories of the year will be posted later this week.

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