Colorado primary: State legislative races unseat multiple incumbent Republicans

Fifty-one wannabe lawmakers found out Tuesday night whether they’ll be moving on to the general election contests in November. There were more than a few surprises, and a couple of incumbent Republicans will not be returning next year.

All 65 seats in the state House of Representatives were up for election Tuesday. There were contested primaries in 15 House Districts. Only two districts saw primary battles for both major parties.

In the Senate, where 18 seats are up for election, five Senate districts had contested primaries. In two of those districts, it was up to voters to choose both the Democratic and Republican candidates who will advance to November’s general election.

In a Colorado Springs contest between a former lawmaker and an incumbent, it is the former one, Larry Liston, who is headed to the general election and a certain win in the Republican-dominated district in November.

Liston defeated incumbent Rep. Janak Joshi In House District 16 after a contest marred by nasty campaign mailers sent by the Joshi campaign that accused Liston of being a cross-dresser. The accusation was based on a skit that takes place every year in the state House; Liston had dressed up as Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora in a spoof that is supposed to be off-limits as campaign fodder.

Unofficial results show Liston holding about a 20 percent lead over Joshi, who has served three terms in the state House.

In House District 3, which covers Sheridan, Englewood, Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills Village, unofficial results show that Democrat Jeff Bridges has won the right to go to move on to the general election over Meg Froelich. Republican Katy Brown is also readying for November, having beaten Englewood Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gillit.

The candidates are vying to replace term-limited Rep. Dan Kagan, a Democrat.

One of the marquee races addresses who will replace term-limited Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs: Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a controversial first-term lawmaker, or former state Rep. Bob Gardner. Early returns favor Gardner by 25 percent.

This year’s primary featured a number of challenges to incumbent Republicans in the state House. In addition to Joshi, Republican Rep. Tim Dore of Elizabeth lost his seat Tuesday night to Kimmi Lewis; unofficial returns show Lewis won by more than a 2:1 margin.

But three other incumbent Republican lawmakers won their primary races: Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain defeated her primary challenger, Steve Elisha, by a 2:1 margin, according to unofficial returns. Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone bested Colleen Whitlow by some 25 percentage points, and Rep. Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch defeated Cindy Barnhard.

One race could still head to a recount, in Senate District 4, with the candidates vying to succeed Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker. Republican James Smallwood is ahead by just 69 votes over Benjamin Lyng, with Jess Loban a distant third. The 69 votes, based on unofficial results listed Wednesday morning on the Secretary of State’s website, fall within the one-half percent margin that puts the race into an automatic recount. However, according to spokesperson Lynn Bartels, there are still votes to be counted, particularly from overseas and military voters. Whether that race goes to a recount will be known in about two to three weeks when official results are certified.

Unofficial results  show that in the Democratic primary, Christina Riegel beat James Huff.

Five candidates also are fighting to succeed term-limited Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver. On the Democratic side, Rep. Lois Court of Denver emerged over Steve Sherick and Erin Bennett. Republican Bob Lane bested Jeffrey Washington by a better than 2:1 margin.

Democratic Rep. Angela Williams of Denver will head on to the November election, defeating her primary opponent, Jon Biggerstaff, to succeed term-limited Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston of Denver.

And there are plenty of challengers from both major parties who will succeed a number of term-limited members of the House.

In House District 6, the seat currently held by term-limited Court, Chris Hansen handily beat Jeff Hart, both of Denver.

The race by Democrats to succeed Williams, based on unofficial results, shows James Coleman eked out an 80 vote win over Michele Wheeler, with Elet Valentine a distant third. The 80 votes is about one percent of the vote, so an automatic recount isn’t required.

House District 8* is represented by term-limited Rep. Beth McCann of Denver, who is running for Denver District Attorney. Unofficial results show Leslie Herod with a 20-point lead over Aaron Goldhamer.

And in House District 10, the Democratic primary would determine who advances to the general election and would succeed term-limited Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder. Democrat Edie Hooten defeated Angelique Espinoza by about 2.5 percent.

With Rep. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City running for the state Senate seat that will be vacated by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the race to succeed him in the House District 32 is between Democrats Adrienne Benavidez and Maria Gonzalez. Unofficial results tip the race to Benavidez by just under 4 percent.

Republican Rep. Kathleen Conti of Littleton, in House District 38, is stepping down from the House and chose not to run for re-election after three terms. In that Republican primary race, Susan Beckman won by more than 20 percent of the vote over MIke Williams.

In Aurora, the race to succeed Fields in House District 42 is between two Democrats, Dominique Jackson and Eric Nelson, who had been dogged by accusations of falsifying his background. In that race, Jackson won handily by more than 40 percent of the vote.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland   is term-limited in House District 51, and the primary race is between Hugh McKean and former CU Regent Tom Lucero. Unofficial results show McKean with an advantage of just under 4 percent.

Finally, two primaries in the southern Colorado district represented by term-limited Democratic Rep. Ed Vigil of Alamosa are also being decided tonight. Democrat Donald Valdez won by almost 30 percent over Alonzo Payne. On the Republican side, Bob Mattive bested Marcy Freeburg with a margin of more than 37 percent of the vote.

Live election returns are available from the Colorado Secretary of State.

Correction 6/30/16: to correctly identify House District 8 race.

Photo credit: Allen Tian

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.