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Know the West

The Western races to watch

Democrats hope to nab vulnerable Republican seats.


So much attention is going to the rhetoric of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that it can be easy to forget about this election’s other important races. Republicans hold the majority in the U.S. House, Senate and over half of the nation’s state House and Senate seats, but this fall, Democrats hope to chip away at those strongholds. In the West, races in four state legislatures could determine which party holds that state’s majority.

Some analysts predict that Democrats stand a decent chance, since their constituents tend to vote in higher numbers during general elections than in mid-term years. “Just based on structural factors, Democrats should do fairly well, and that’s not factoring in any Trump impact on down-ballot voting,” says Louis Jacobson, a columnist on state politics for the nonpartisan magazine Governing. In other words, some Republicans who usually turn out to support their party’s presidential candidate, and then vote in other races as well, might not show up at all because they don’t support Trump. Low voter turnout would affect not just Trump’s chances, but those of other Republicans running for congressional and state races.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R, and State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D, are opponents for the District 6 congressional race in Colorado.
United States Congress; Courtesy Carroll for Colorado

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold the majority by 30 seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is putting its weight behind 14 promising Western candidates. Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a clean-energy supporter, for example, is challenging conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. And Ruben Kihuen, a Mexican-American Nevada state senator, is attempting to unseat Rep. Cresent Hardy, a Trump supporter. With so many red seats up for grabs, Republicans are largely on the defensive, though they hope to flip some blue seats in Arizona, California and New Mexico.

In the U.S. Senate, Republicans are trying to retain 24 seats, nine in the West. The most contentious races are likely to involve Sen. John McCain’s seat in Arizona and the open seat left by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is retiring. To take over the Senate, Democrats would need to gain five seats — four if their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is elected. Both parties are also looking at the long game, by trying to set up state majorities for the next congressional redistricting in 2020.

In five Western states –– Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and Arizona –– Republicans hold both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Democrats hold all three offices in California and Oregon. State-level elections are particularly significant in states where one party controls a trifecta. This year, a number of state chambers are up for grabs: the Colorado Senate, the Nevada Senate, Washington’s Senate and House, and the New Mexico House.

In Washington state, which has a slim Democratic majority in the state’s House and a Democratic governor, issues such as climate change regulations have stalled in the GOP-controlled state Senate. Democrats there hope to win two more Senate seats, while holding the House and governorship. 

Nevada is a Republican trifecta state, but is competitive in the state Senate and its congressional seats, and has the potential to flip from red to blue.

Brooke Warren/High Country News.

Explore an interactive version of this chart. 

Correction: A previous version of this article's chart stated that the governor seat in Colorado was up for reelection this year - it is not.

Anna V. Smith is an editorial intern at High Country News.