Colorado

At a glance

Electoral votes: 9  |  Toss-up

Governor:
D Ritter

U.S. Senators:
D Salazar  R Allard


U.S. Representatives:

Colorado State House:

Colorado State Senate: 

Demographics:
2006:
Population 4,753,377
71.7% White
19.7% Hispanic/Latino
2.6% Asian
1.1% Native American
4.1% Black
1990:
Population 3,294,394
80.7% White
12.9% Hispanic/Latino
0.2% Asian
1.8% Native American
4.0% Black
5.1% Other

Presidential election history:
  • 1972R
  • 1976R
  • 1980R
  • 1984R
  • 1988R
  • 1992D
  • 1996R
  • 2000R
  • 2004R
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Even though Colorado has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once between 1972 and 2004, it may swing Democrat this year. The state has been slowly turning blue over the past couple of elections. After eight years under Republican oilman Bill Owens, Coloradans in 2006 elected moderate Democrat Bill Ritter, who promised to rein in natural gas drilling and promote more green-energy development and jobs, as governor. Democrats also won control of both chambers of the state Legislature. Republicans -- who controlled the House for at least a decade also enjoyed a majority in the Senate for most of those years -- will have to work hard to regain their lead. The highly contested District 19 is a must-win if they hope to retake control of the state Senate. Evie Hudak, D, who is funded in large part by unions, is running against Libby Szabo, R, whose top contributors are business and energy. But Democrats aren’t about to give up without a major fight. Some observers speculate that this northern Jefferson County district, which includes parts of Arvada and Westminster, could be 2008’s most important Statehouse battleground.

This year, Colorado may also gain a second Democratic U.S. Senator. Mark Udall, D, who stepped down as congressman for Colorado’s 2nd District, which includes Boulder, and Bob Schaffer, R, former congressman for Colorado’s 4th District, which includes Colorado Springs, are facing off to fill Republican Wayne Allard’s open U.S. Senate seat. The Senate race is the ninth most expensive in the country, as well as one of the most contentious, with Udall holding a slight, but consistent, lead. Udall has out-raised Schaffer by about $2.5 million, with lawyers taking the top spot among his contributors; 58 percent of his funds have come from out of state. Schaffer’s top contributors are retirees, and 74 percent of his campaign kitty has been filled with in-state money.

Internet entrepeneur and philanthropist Jared Polis, D, who has spent his self-made millions lavishly in his campaign, is expected to win Udall’s vacated House seat. The 2nd district hasn’t elected a Republican since 1974. Polis would be the nation’s third openly gay congressman --  from a state that passed an anti-gay amendment in the 1990s (later overturned by the Supreme Court) and has three-term Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a who’s crusaded against same-sex marriage for years. 

Musgrave, a narrow winner in 2006, faces a tight race in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District against Betsy Markey, a former aide to Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar. CQ Politics rates this race in its highly competitive “Leans Republican” category.

Meanwhile, an anti-union group managed to get a “right to work” initiative – which would ban mandatory union dues, allowing employees to benefit from collectively negotiated contracts without paying their share of negotiating expenses – on the ballot, spurring an all out ballot measure war with labor unions.

Another ballot war in Colorado is between oil companies and a coalition of citizens’ groups backing a measure that would net the state more than $300 million a year in extra severance tax revenues from oil and gas extraction by eliminating an industry property tax exemption. The majority of new revenues would go to fund college scholarships, as well as renewable energy, wildlife conservation, and transportation projects in places impacted by the gas boom. Unless, that is, voters approve a competing, oil and gas industry-supported measure that would keep tax rates the same and require a chunk of revenues to be spent on highway projects. If both pass, the issue could end up in court, where the industry-backed measure is more likely to prevail because it amends the constitution instead of just altering statutes.

In a blast from the culture-war past, Coloradans will also vote on initiatives that would ban affirmative action in government hiring and define “personhood” as starting at conception. Such measures have been used to drive conservative turnout in other elections, but because turnout is already guaranteed to be high as a result of the presidential race, they’re unlikely to have much of an impact.