What The Colorado Independent is watching for on Election Day

Voters head into a voting center at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver on Election Day in 2018. (Photo by Alex Burness)

The Colorado Independent is keeping tabs throughout Election Day — and beyond, if necessary — on the major statewide races and ballot measures.

It’s a big day for the nation and Colorado voters will play a role in helping to shape the future not only of this state but of the country.

Will Colorado swing bluer than it has in years? It’s possible Democrats could seize control tonight of both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s Mansion, not to mention the state’s congressional delegation and other key offices such as attorney general and secretary of state — the latter of which hasn’t been occupied by a Democrat in 55 years.

And what about all those ballot measures? We’ve got 13 of them this year, which is more than any other state. Whether voters are willing to ante up for education and transportation funding in this state will be decided, and Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 have enormous implications not only for the oil and gas industry, but for the future of climate action in Colorado.

We’ll be updating as results come in, so check back here once polls close at 7.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the stories our staff is watching tonight:

Susan Greene, editor (@greeneindenver)

We in the news business have been told over and over again since November 2016 that we’re out of touch and living in a bubble. We’ve done a lot of soul-searching in response to those criticisms. That soul-searching reminds us that this purported “blue wave” pundits are expecting this cycle may be just a construct of those pundits (who are always being confused for journalists and give the pros among us a bad name).

As we prepare for our coverage tonight, our team at The Indy is keenly aware that anything could happen in this square, swing state we call home. And, believe it or not, that’s how we journalists like it. We are not only deadline and adrenaline junkies, we are creatures of wonder, drawn to question marks and surprises. My colleagues have listed the Colorado races with the biggest question marks hanging over them tonight. But what they’ve not mentioned is the giddiness we news folks feel before 7 p.m. each Election Day in anticipation of seeing what happens.

Mike Littwin, columnist (@mike_littwin):

If this is, in fact, the most important midterm election of our lives, that may be because, as Donald Trump believes anyway, no one ever thought about midterm elections before this one. This one should be memorable. Trump has made the midterms a referendum on him, and if Democrats don’t take back the U.S. House, Trumps win and …. and …

OK, some of us don’t even want to think about that. Which brings us to Colorado, where the stakes are similar, but different. Talk about nationalizing the race — Jared Polis is calling Walker Stapleton “Trump’s yes man” and Stapleton is calling Polis “Bernie Polis.” If this race is about Trump, it’s probably bad news for the GOP since Colorado rejected Trump in 2016. If the blue wave hits, watch out in the down-ballot races where Republicans usually hold sway and watch out in the state legislature, where Republicans have a one-seat lead in the state Senate. Or, to sum it up, just watch out.

Corey Hutchins, reporter (@coreyhutchins):

The race for governor hasn’t really changed from where it was more than a year ago when both Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton were brawling through their respective primary fields, each assuming, much like plenty of political observers, that the other was going to win the nomination and that they would face each other here tonight.

What’s interesting to me is how little national attention the race got after the primary, so I’ll be looking to see how the big time pundits out there frame tonight’s results in that Here’s-what-it-means-for-the-future-of-the-party-and-the-United-States kind of way. That might be complicated by some being able to say, “Well, Polis just bought the race, so…” But, we’ll see!

If Walker Stapleton wins, of course that’s like the 2016 presidential election all over again and the professional pollsters in Colorado are going to have to use sandpaper to get the egg off their faces. Part of me is curious whether Donald Trump might fly in this afternoon for an impromptu rally just to come up with a really awful nickname for Polis. If Stapleton loses, I wonder what he does next. He has long said he didn’t want to be a career politician and if the music stopped he’d just go back to the private sector and make money. I guess I’m curious if that’s true or if he sticks around the political scene.

Tina Griego, managing editor (@tinagriego):

Lots to watch this year: There’s the Coffman/Crow race — will Coffman basically prove invincible? There’s the balance of power in the state legislature. Split legislatures in polarized times tend to lock chambers down and produce little more than a flurry of symbolic legislation, but I’ve always been wary of the trifecta, one party — no matter the party — running the table. Of course, there are some really interesting, high-stakes ballot measures.

The A.G. race is a key one and I am, admittedly, viewing it through a narrow lens. The Indy as an institution has a complicated relationship with D.A. George Brauchler’s 18th Judicial District office given that we have a petition before the Supreme Court related to sealed records in a death penalty case it prosecuted. As members of the media, we are fighting that office’s decision, backed by the state Supreme Court, to keep those records shielded. Beyond that, Brauchler himself is a talented politician and a formidable candidate, strongly associated with his vigorous support of the death penalty. Whether he is elected might be seen in some ways a proxy vote on where Colorado stands on the death penalty. It may also boil down to the fact that Colorado seems to like its attorneys general Republican. Like everything thing else, it seems, the office has become increasingly partisan nationwide, a trend I lament.

Shannon Mullane, reporter (@shannonmullane):

The Colorado Independent is closely watching four U.S. House of Representative races: the 6th Congressional District, between Republican Mike Coffman and Democrat Jason Crow; CD 5, between Repubican Doug Lamborn and Democrat Stephany Rose Spaulding; CD 4, between Republican Ken Buck and Democrat Karen McCormick; and CD 3, between Republican Scott Tipton and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush.
The CD 6 race between Coffman and Crow is one of the most competitive House races in Colorado. It’s also a battleground race that has the potential to flip control of the House. Coffman has managed to hold his seat for a decade, even while the district voted for Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016 and increasingly leans leftward. Crow has been leading in the polls by between one and nine points.
Both Coffman and Crow ran aggressive campaigns, each accusing the other of making exaggerated or inaccurate claims. One prominent issue in the race was the performance of President Donald Trump. Coffman attempted to find the middle-ground between supporting and pushing back against Trump administration policies around issues like undocumented immigrants and the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Crow and the Democrats attempted to link Coffman firmly to Trump. The results tonight will indicate how well their strategies worked.

Alex Burness, reporter (@alex_burness):

The list of statewide ballot measures this year in Colorado is almost countless. We’ve got 13 of them, and they together touch on many of the most important issues in the state: education, transportation, energy, gerrymandering, among others. I, like everyone else, am really curious to see how Proposition 112 (setbacks for oil and gas drilling sites) and Amendment 74 (a measure the oil and gas industry is pushing as an insurance policy if 112 passes) shake out. Those two have dominated the airwaves for months, so let’s talk about some other measures.
I’m keeping a close eye tonight on Amendment 73 (income tax for education) and Propositions 109 and 110 (competing measures that seek different ways to pay for transportation improvements). It’s well known that Colorado’s lagging in terms of funding for public schools and transportation, but the state’s voters and lawmakers often disagree on how, if at all, these problems should be addressed.
Finally, I’m curious to see the split on Amendment A, which would officially ban slavery once and for all in Colorado. There’s no way it’s not going to pass this time around (it failed in 2016 due to the measure’s confusing wording, which was cleaned up this year), but I wonder what the margin will be. What would it say about our electorate if a significant chunk of voters say they’d like to keep slavery as a legal option to punish people serving time?

Johnny Herrick, reporter (@herrickjohnny):

There are five Senate battleground districts up for grabs today. Most of these seats are in the Denver suburbs and ones that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 election. Two of these seats are held by Republicans currently, putting the GOP on defense in order to keep their one-vote majority in the upper chamber.

Democrats, who have a solid hold on the House, see a chance to control both chambers and potentially the governor’s mansion, earning them a trifecta not seen since 2014.

Meanwhile, Latino candidates, who are underrepresented in the General Assembly, are poised to gain ground this midterm. There are 12 Latino lawmakers, several of whom are either term-limited out of office, have resigned or face a re-election challenge. Latino candidates are running in 13 different seats this year, several of which will be competitive.

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.