Mad midterm: Control of both Statehouse chambers still undecided

A night of disastrous midterm election results for Colorado Democrats may end up far more lopsided than anyone would have predicted.

Democrats regained both of the State Senate seats they lost in the 2013 recalls. But that was the party’s major bright spot in a night when Republicans may yet move back into the majority in both houses of the legislature.

If middle-of-the-night numbers hold true into daylight today, Republicans will hold 18 Senate seats to Democrats’ 17, and 33 House seats to Democrats’ 32. But several statehouse races flipped after midnight, just as John Hickenlooper edged out Bob Beauprez in the governor’s race as ballots were counted through the night in Colorado’s more urban, left-leaning counties.

By 4:00 this morning, Republicans seemed to have a net gain of five seats in the House and one in the Senate. Margins were small enough in six Senate races and four House races to keep them officially too close to call.

Four state Senate races in bellwether Jefferson County had candidates — two Democrats, two Republicans — leading by the slimmest of margins. Election officials in Jeffco posted their last set of results at 2:45 a.m., saying 14,000 votes remained to be counted this morning.

“Right now, we’re just waiting for something more conclusive,” said Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, who trailed opponent Laura Woods all night in a bid to retain the SD-19 seat to which she was appointed when former Sen. Evie Hudak resigned to stave off a recall.

The State Senate

In Pueblo County’s SD-3, State Rep. Leroy M. Garcia Jr. defeated Sen. George Rivera, 55 percent to 45 percent, to regain the seat formerly held by Angela Giron. Former Rep. Mike Merrifield pulled off a similar victory in Colorado Springs’ SD-11, 52 percent to 42 percent, sending Sen. Bernie Herpin home after one partial term won by recalling former Senate President John Morse.

In Jeffco, Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr appeared to have fought off challenger Tony Sanchez, a social services consultant, 51 percent to 49 percent, to hang onto his SD-22 seat. Incumbent Zenzinger trailed Woods, a court reporter, in SD-19, 48 percent to 46 percent, Democrat Sen. Jeanne Nicholson was losing to insurance agent Tim Neville 52 percent to 48 percent in SD-16, and Democrat Sen. Cheri Jahn is reportedly leading businessman Larry Queen by about 31 votes in SD-20, 46.65 percent to 46.60 percent.

The four Jefferson County Republican challengers all ran with the backing of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which in three primaries pushed strong Second Amendment advocates past more mainstream candidates.

Four-term Democratic Rep. Judy Solano may have lost her bid for the SD-24 seat — held by Sen. Lois Tochtrop — to Thornton Councilwoman Beth Martinez Humenik, 52 percent to 48 percent.

On the Western Slope, former Vail Town Councilwoman Kerry Donovan, a Democrat, seemed to be bucking the trend of Republican dominance. Overnight, Donovan increased her small lead over Orchard City Mayor Don Suppes, 49 percent to 47 percent, for the SD-5 seat held by Sen. Gail Schultz.

The State House of Representatives

It was also a rough night for Democratic House incumbents. At 4 a.m., five sitting Dems appeared to have been defeated. Rep. Daniel Kagan of HD-3 had 49.5 percent of the vote compared to 50.5 percent garnered by Republican newcomer Candice Benge. The margin in that race was about 200 votes with 65 percent of precincts reporting.

In Colorado Springs, Democrat Rep. Tony Exum of HD-17 trailed businesswoman Catherine “Kit” Roupe, 45 percent to 48 percent of the vote, with 20 percent of ballots still uncounted. In Thornton, Rep. Joseph Salazar of HD-31 appeared to be losing to florist and former Thornton Councilmember Carol “Jody” Beckler 49 percent to 51 percent. In HD-59, representing Colorado’s six southwestern counties, Rep. Mike McLachlan was behind rancher J. Paul Brown 49.5 percent to 50.5 percent. And in Adams County’s HD-30, Democrat Rep. Jenise May trailed businesswoman JoAnn Windholz 48 percent to 52 percent.

Overnight, three-term Democratic Rep. Su Ryden in Aurora’s HD- 36 saw a 20-vote deficit turn into an apparent 167-vote lead over Richard Bowman, 49.96 percent to 50.04 percent.

Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont’s HD-11, prevailed over Republican opponent Charlie Plagainos, 54 percent to 39 percent. But his win was cold comfort as his party’s leadership seemed in danger of slipping.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Singer said Tuesday night. “Over the last two years our economy has grown. We’re No. 1 in job growth in the nation. To dial back any of those policies now would be a mistake. We’re going to have to find some common ground with the other side.”

Mostly a business reporter, at places like the Rocky Mountain News, San Francisco Business Times, New Hope Natural Media, and Greeley Tribune. I freelance for The Denver Post about kitchen remodeling and other topics of major national import.