Democrats hunker down in suburban swing districts, hoping to flip the Colorado Senate

Races have attracted women candidates and $12 million from outside groups

Colorado State Capitol. Photo by John Herrick

With one week before Election Day, candidates running for Colorado’s competitive state Senate seats have mostly emptied their war chests in efforts to persuade voters and prod them to cast their ballots.

Democrats are targeting a handful of swing seats in the state Senate, where they’re outnumbered by one vote. The party is hoping to flip the upper chamber by targeting Republican incumbents holding seats in districts where Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans. Democrats also have their sights on open seats where independent voters dominate the rolls.

Democratic women running for battleground districts ranging from the Front Range suburbs to the rural Western Slope have shown their fundraising prowess this year, raising more than their Republican rivals nearly three to one.

Meanwhile, independent expenditure committees (IECs) have spent more than $12 million on just seven state Senate races, flooding the airwaves with ads and cramming mailboxes with campaign literature. These groups have virtually no limits on how much money they can accept or spend but do have to report spending to the Colorado Secretary of State. 

Democrats have a safe, seven-seat majority in the House. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis is polling ahead of State Treasurer Walker Stapleton in the race for governor. If Democrats flip the Senate blue, the party could secure a coveted trifecta — control over both the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion — not seen since 2014.

Outside groups are spending the most on the race between Republican Christine Jensen, a mortgage banker from Arvada, and Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson from Wheat Ridge for an open seat in Senate District 20. The seat was recently vacated by Cheri Jahn, a term-limited Wheat Ridge Democrat-turned-independent. The Senate District 24 race between Democratic Rep. Faith Winter of Westminster and Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik of Thornton is the next most expensive.

Coloradans for Fairness, an independent expenditure committee, is the main group backing Democrats in the Senate. IECs backing Republicans include the Senate Majority Fund, the Business Opportunity Fund, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, and Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification. More recently, the Colorado Republican Committee began paying for ads on behalf of Senate candidates.

Coloradans for Fairness has spent $6.4 million and groups backing Republicans have spent $5.9 million.

There are also dark money groups that do not have to disclose donors to the Secretary of State paying for ads. These nonprofits include the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, which backs Republicans, and Colorado Values Project, which backs Democrats.

Tammy Story, a Democratic education reformer from Conifer who helped with the Jefferson County School Board recall elections in 2015, has raised the most of all the state Senate candidates.

Story, who had the help of a fundraising project conducted by a left-wing think tank called Data for Progress raked in more than $510,000 for her campaign this year. She is running for Senate District 16, currently held by Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, a gun rights advocate who has raised about $210,000.  

Democratic candidates vying for the seven most competitive open seats have raised more than $2 million compared to Republicans candidates’ $756,000.

In recent weeks, the Democratic-backed IEC Coloradans for Fairness began spending big in a district where Republicans have a strong advantage on paper. In the red-leaning foothills west of Fort Collins, Democrat Rebecca Cranston, a 33-year-old director of a healthcare nonprofit, is facing Republican Rob Woodward, a 49-year-old business owner, in a race for Senate District 15. The seat is being vacated by term-limited Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg.

In this district, 36 percent of registered voters are Republicans compared to Democrats who make up 24 percent of the voter rolls. The majority of voters, 39 percent, are unaffiliated.

Coloradans for Fairness, which is backing Cranston, has spent about $322,000 on the Larimer County seat. Woodward has raised $150,000, mostly from individuals, compared to the $59,000 raised by Cranston’s campaign.

Monday marked the final campaign finance filing before the Nov. 6 midterm.