The other six competitive districts cover ground that has been largely held by Democrats in recent years. One of them, Senate District 3 in Pueblo, has an incumbent — State Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, who was nominated to represent the area earlier this year.
In total, Republicans are likely to retain Woodward’s seat while capturing at least five of the six vulnerable Democratic districts.
“Some people are calling them vulnerable,” said Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales, co-chair of the party’s Senate election campaign, of candidates in Republican-targeted races. “I call them the frontliners, because they’re on the front lines of flipping those seats blue and keeping them blue.”
The results could also show whether Republicans in Colorado can overcome Trump’s deep unpopularity in Colorado. Voters in 2020 strongly opposed the former president, crashing against him by more than 10 points in most competitive Senate precincts.
Wadhams said he thought Republicans would get a boost simply because Trump was out of office and did not vote.
“There’s no doubt that Trump was a big liability for Republican candidates in 2020 and 2018,” he said.
Sen. Paul Lundeen, who is leading the re-election effort for the GOP, said crime and the economy would be the winning issues for his party.
“It’s just the affordability of life and everything that Biden and Democrats in the state of Colorado have done to make life unaffordable,” he said. “That’s what’s driving the conversation right now… When I’m on the doorstep, that’s the only thing people want to talk about.”
But Gonzales said the past few months have improved the outlook for Democrats.
“Early on in the summer, there were all these doomsday reports about the end of the Democratic trifecta, and ‘the red wave is coming,'” she said.
That has changed, she argued.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade motivated some Coloradans to vote against Republicans, citing their opposition to legal abortion. And Gonzales said Democratic candidates will also push for party gains for working families, such as moves by the Polis administration to provide free all-day kindergarten and expanded preschool, as well as reforms to Health care.
Northwest Colorado is its own battleground
State Senate battlegrounds are spread throughout the state. In Colorado’s northwest quadrant, state Rep. Dylan Roberts is running to replace state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a fellow term-limited Democrat, in a district that has recently leaned toward the democrats.
About 48% of voters in the new borders of Senate District 8 favored Trump in 2016, but that support has fallen to 44% in 2020. The sprawling district includes ski towns like Vail and Steamboat Springs, mining communities like Craig and distant bands along the borders of Wyoming and Utah.
Roberts is close to the Polis administration and has sponsored the “Colorado Option” – a new program aimed at reducing health care costs, especially in rural and mountainous areas. It has not yet entered into force.
“I absolutely believe it’s a competitive district – the way it’s been drawn and fair given the environment this year,” Roberts said.
He is running in part on Democrats’ recent health care and housing legislation.
“It’s not all happening overnight, but we’re making really good progress on the biggest challenges facing this district,” he said. “I think I’m offering someone who is willing to compromise and get things done rather than stick to a tough political stance.”
Republican Matt Solomon opposes Roberts, whose resume includes stints as a paramedic, deputy coroner and Eagle town councilman, as well as a gun shop owner, among other gigs. His website highlights traditional conservative priorities — “fighting tax increases, standing up for freedom, protecting gun rights.”
“Colorado has always been a balanced state. It forces conversation, and when we force conversation, better politics happens,” said Solomon, who was asked to come forward by party officials and friends. He wants to slow state budget growth while increasing funding for education, although he said he was not yet sure what cuts he would advocate to achieve this.
The battle in suburban Denver
Economic issues are front and center for business consultant and first-time Republican nominee Tom Kim, who is running for Senate District 27 in Centennial against Democratic State Rep. Tom Sullivan.
“I really want to focus on the economy and affordability as the number one issue. Crime and public safety come next for me because without safe communities it’s hard to live the rest of your life,” said Kim.
His opponent, Sullivan, was a champion of tougher gun laws during his time at the state capitol. He decided to get into politics after his son Alex was killed in the Aurora Theater shooting. And Sullivan is no stranger to competitive racing; in 2018, when he first ran for the House, he knocked down an incumbent Republican to win his seat.
Candidates and political parties are already pouring money into elections. In key Senate battleground districts, Democratic candidates raised about $875,000 in donations, compared to about $749,000 for Republicans.
Meanwhile, independent Republican groups spent about $844,000 on the battlegrounds, nearly double the $470,000 spent on the Democratic side.
But some of the biggest money is yet to come. The Senate Democrats’ spending group had nearly $3 million in reserve as of Aug. 31, and Republicans may have more anticipation on other accounts as well.