After successfully unseating three Democrat state senators, political observers predict that Republicans will turn up the heat in 2014 to win legislative races, particularly in the State Senate where Democrats hold a single-seat majority.
In September, voters recalled Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. They elected Republican Sens. Bernie Herpin and George Rivera to replace Morse and Giron, respectively.
In Senate District 19, former Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster resigned to avoid being recalled and losing her seat to a Republican.
The Republicans want to recapture those Senate seats and more to take control of the Senate. If their offense strategy works, Democrats will be forced to defend their scorched earth legislative record in 2013.
The recalls were reactions to Democrats having rammed through bills on gun-control, increased renewable green energy standards in struggling rural communities, election regulations, and public education finance reform to be funded by a $1 billion income tax hike which voters shot down.
As the New Year kicks off, here are predictions of Senate races to track.
Senate District 11
After booting Morse, Republicans will wage war to ensure a victory for Herpin, a former Colorado Springs City Councilman. Herpin will, in all likelihood, face former Democrat state Rep. Michael Merrifield whose primary opponent Michael Maday withdrew from the race.
Merrifield, the former Colorado state director who steered former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns campaign, might be better known for his widely condemned slam on school choice.
“There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherziers. They deserve it!” declared Merrifield (D-Manitou Springs) in an email to former state Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) in 2007. He was forced to step down as House Education Committee chair in the aftermath of the comments.
Senate District 3
Though a long shot in Democrat-dominated Pueblo, the GOP will fight this coveted seat won by Rivera, a former Pueblo Deputy Police Chief. However, Rivera may have to fend off Republican challenger Alexander Lucero-Mugato, a professional wrestler who filed his candidacy affidavit but may not pose much of a threat. Lucero-Mugato suffered a huge defeat in the 2010 primary election for SD 3.
Democrat state Rep. Leroy Garcia is running for the seat and has nearly $19,000 cash on hand, but he may face a challenge from Giron whose re-election campaign has $5,750 cash on hand. Democrats recently discouraged Giron from running for Secretary of State.
Giron told CNN that she’s keeping her options open to run for SD 3 this year. If she does it might be a liability for Democrats and an asset to the GOP because it’s a reminder of Giron’s voting record which led to the recall election.
Senate District 19
Democrats saved this seat after Hudak avoided being recalled by resigning. Former Arvada City Councilwoman Rachel Zenzinger filled the vacancy, but the Democrat may have to fend off Hudak in a primary – and the victor will face an unknown GOP candidate. Rumored Republican candidates include former state Rep. Robert Ramirez and Lang Sias, who lost this seat to Hudak by about 500 votes – thanks in part to a Libertarian candidate who garnered about 1,500 votes in 2012.
The district voters are roughly 32 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat and 36 percent unaffiliated as of Dec. 1, 2013.
Senate District 16
Republicans have the statistical edge in this highly competitive race between incumbent Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D-Black Hawk) and former Sen.Tim Neville (R-Littleton). Neville has the advantage with $39,924 in his campaign coffer and the district is ruled by Republican registered voters followed by unaffiliated and Democrat voters. Nicholson’s campaign has $27,785 cash on hand.
Two Republicans could throw a wrench in Neville’s election: Richard Wenzel of Black Hawk who filed his candidacy affidavit and Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen who is term limited in 2014 but hasn’t indicated if she plans to run for SD 16.
Senate District 5
Term limited Sen. Gayle Schwartz (D-Snowmass) endorsed Vail Town Councilwoman Kerry Donovan to fill her boots. Donovan, who has raised roughly $16,000, seems to echo Schwartz’s platform to protect water and natural resources. Her campaign is fueled by Democrats, educators and advocates for environmental restrictions on oil, gas and coal energy resource development.
Republican challenger Don Suppes, former mayor of Orchard City in Delta County, will have the challenge of raising money and his name ID in this diverse district that also includes voters in Chaffee, Eagle, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Lake and Pitkin counties. The district is comprised of 26,327 unaffiliated voters, 24,879 Republicans and 21,458 Democrats.
Senate District 22
Democrat Sen. Andy Kerr, who filed the lawsuit challenging the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), is battling to keep this seat won in 2012 after redistricting. Kerr will face either Republican attorney Mario Nicolais or Romualdo “Tony” Sanchez.
Kerr and Nicolais boast of having been raised and educated in the Jefferson County district; Sanchez moved to Colorado a few years ago. The outcome hinges on fundraising, turning out the vote and voter sentiment in the district of nearly equal Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voters.
Kerr has raised more than $42,500 from liberal leaning individuals, lobbyists and political action committees such as Colorado WINs union and recalled Sen. John Morse’s Leadership PAC. Republicans Nicolais garnered nearly $15,000 primarily from traditional party activists and Sanchez raised roughly $9,500 including $2,000 from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Senate District 7
More colorful than competitive is the race to replace Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) who is running for Mesa County Sheriff. Republican Rep. Ray Scott of Grand Junction is gunning for the seat, but will have to fend off challenger Democrat Claudette Konola, who was defeated by King in 2010.
Konola is an environmentalist and Colorado Pols blogger whose missives about the Mesa County Republicans and Western Slope tea party members have raised eyebrows.
In a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats more than 2 to 1, conservative Scott seems destined to win the November election – but Konola plans to court young unaffiliated voters.
“If they are over 50 they are probably to the right of Attila the Hun and they’ve gotten disillusioned with the Republican Party,” she told the Grand Junction Sentinel in October. “But if they are under 30, maybe even under 40, they are young people who just don’t like labels.”
Konola has written that “TABOR is destroying Colorado,” the state must “raise taxes” to remain viable, “climate change is real,” and gun-control laws passed by Democrats are reasonable. Colorado’s gun-control laws are opposed by “hot-headed gun nuts who think that a requirement to reload after 15 shots somehow takes away their right to possess a firearm,” said Konola.
Now, the Democrat touts her support for Second Amendment rights, concealed carry permits and the county “sheriffs’ lawsuit against the gun bills. While there may be some people in this community who think I am anti-gun, they are absolutely wrong,” said Konola.