Colorado a ‘super battleground’ with new districts

Filed under: Daily News,Government State |

A new congressional district map chosen by a Denver judge paves the way for big spending on high-profile races next year because Democrats will have a chance to unseat two Republican incumbents, political analysts said Friday.

Democrats would get a huge boost from the new boundaries for the 6th Congressional District represented by Rep. Mike Coffman in the southern Denver suburbs. The GOP has held that seat since it was created after the 1980 census. And the sprawling, rural 3rd District on the Western Slope held by Republican Rep. Scott Tipton would become more competitive than it already is.

Former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll said the proposed map raises the state’s status in 2012, potentially attracting big national donors to a place already being courted by President Barack Obama in his re-election bid.

“It definitely makes it more interesting. It changes the political landscape in Colorado in a much more competitive direction,” said Carroll, a Democrat. “We were already going to be a battleground state, but now we’re a super battleground state.”

On Thursday, Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt chose a Democrat-sponsored map for Colorado’s congressional districts for the next 10 years. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed after the Legislature couldn’t agree on districts this spring.

Republicans criticized the ruling, but GOP state Chairman Ryan Call has said he’s optimistic the party can win most of Colorado’s seven congressional seats and have a shot at defeating incumbent Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the 7th District.

Call said a decision on whether to appeal the ruling will come next week.

Hyatt said the map he chose creates a nearly even split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters in three districts — the 3rd, 6th and 7th. Each party has two districts that are considered safe.

“Nobody is surprised that Colorado is certainly going to be part of the center of attention in this country,” Tipton said.

Democrats scored a big victory with their proposal to redraw Coffman’s district, previously held by Republican firebrand Tom Tancredo, known for his strict stance on illegal immigration.

“I’m happy that voters are going to have a real choice,” said Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi, who launched his challenge against Coffman after Democrats pitched an overhaul of his district.

The ruling makes Coffman’s suburban Denver district more Democratic by incorporating all of Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, and putting GOP-leaning portions into the eastern plains district held by Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.

Hyatt said having Aurora represented by a single person was “of essential importance,” noting that the city has its own identity with economic development program, its own police and fire departments, and major regional facilities, including military base and medical research facility. Aurora is currently split between the 6th and 7th districts.

Hyatt blasted the Republican’s proposal to make minimal changes to current districts, saying the plan ignored significant demographic changes since 2000.

The chance of a Democratic takeover of Coffman’s seat appears to have garnered enthusiasm among Miklosi’s supporters, who gave him $130,500 in his first quarter of fundraising. That means he raised nearly as much in one quarter as previous challengers took in during an entire election cycle in the district, Miklosi’s campaign said.

“When people realize the viability of campaigns, they’re much more willing to contribute,” said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “And if this district begins to be painted as a competitive district, the fundraising environment will definitely change and I think the same thing can be said of Tipton’s challenger.”

“This district is a true tossup seat,” said State House Democratic Leader Sal Pace, who is running against Tipton. “It gives a chance to the voters of the 3rd Congressional District to have their voices be heard.”

Coffman did not respond to an interview request Friday.

Call said he expects the potential of competitive races next year will attract a lot of outside spending. Colorado got a taste of that last year with incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet held off a close challenge from Republican Ken Buck.

“It’s my hope that the outside spending won’t overshadow or overwhelm the efforts by the candidates, the policy parity committees and supporters right here in Colorado to determine our own destiny,” Call said.