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Democrats keep majority in Colorado Legislature, blocking GOP foothold at Capitol

‘It looks very difficult for us to win a majority based on what we’re seeing at this point,’ says state Senate GOP leader
The Colorado State Capitol in August 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun, file)

Democrats blocked Republicans from gaining a foothold of power in the state Capitol on Tuesday by holding onto their majority in the Colorado Senate.

The Colorado House will also remain in Democrats’ possession after Election Day, as expected, meaning that, along with Gov. Jared Polis’ reelection victory, the party will be able to move forward with its policy agenda unimpeded by the GOP for at least two more years.

“We kept the majority in everything in Colorado,” said Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll during the Democratic election event at Art Hotel Denver. “We’re winning in places we have never won before.”

Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, said that while there are still several races to be called, he believes there are enough votes tallied to declare a majority for Democrats in the state Senate, pointing specifically to near-guaranteed wins in Senate District 20 in Jefferson County, District 8 in northwest Colorado and District 24 in Adams County.

Democrats only needed to defeat Republicans in two districts to halt them from gaining a majority. They were poised to win all seven competitive state Senate races in a full drubbing of Republicans.

Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican and leader of the Senate GOP caucus, wasn’t ready to fully admit defeat on Tuesday night.

“The results are not complete,” he said. “They are more challenging than we wished they had been. We’ll know tomorrow for certain, but it looks very difficult for us to win a majority based on what we’re seeing at this point.”

The Senate was where Democrats were at the biggest risk of losing power. They needed to block Republicans from winning in six of seven competitive districts. At 11 p.m. they were leading in every one of those races, strongly suggesting that they will keep the gavel in the chamber and potentially even expand their majority.

  • In Senate District 27, Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan, of Aurora, was leading Republican Tom Kim, a businessman and former lawyer supported by gun rights groups. Sullivan had 56% of the vote as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, compared to Kim’s 44%.
  • Democratic state Rep. Kyle Mullica, of Thornton, was beating Adams 12 School Board member Courtney Potter, a Republican, in Senate District 24. Mullica had 55% of the vote to Potter’s 43% through 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Democratic outside groups spent nearly $2.6 million in the contest, compared with $1.6 million spent by GOP groups.
  • Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts was beating former Eagle Town Councilman Matt Solomon in Senate District 8 in northwest Colorado. Roberts had 56% of the vote to Solomon’s 44% at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Republican outside groups spent $2.3 million on the contest, while Democratic groups spent $1.9 million.
  • State Rep. Lisa Cutter was leading Republican Tim Walsh in Senate District 20. Cutter had 55% of the vote to Walsh’s 43% at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Walsh, a developer, put $960,000 in his Senate District 20 campaign, while GOP super PACs spent more than $2.1 million. Democratic groups spent close to $2.1 million on the contest.
  • Democratic state Sen. Tony Exum was leading Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey in Senate District 11 in Colorado Springs. Exum had 51% of the vote compared to Hisey’s 44% at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Republican outside groups spent $2.2 million on the contest, while Democratic groups spent $1.2 million.
  • Democratic Sen. Nick Hinrichsen led Republican Stephen Varela in Senate District 3 in Pueblo County. Hinrichsen had 53% to Varela’s 47% at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. GOP outside groups spent $1.7 million on the contest, compared with $861,000 spent by Democratic groups.

Likely the biggest state Senate disappointment for Republicans was unfolding in Senate District 15 in Larimer County and western Boulder County, where Republican state Sen. Rob Woodward was trailing Democrat Janice Marchman, a former school board member. Marchman held a 2 percentage point lead at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Fenberg said Democrats battled hard to keep their 21-14 majority in the Senate. He said his caucus will focus on affordability issues, education and water in the coming years.

“We are going to do it with our Republican colleagues in the Senate because Colorado deserves that we all work together to take on the challenges that we are facing in our communities,” Fenberg said to the crowd gathered at the Colorado Democratic Party’s watch party in downtown Denver.

Democrats retain majority in Colorado House

House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, announced at the Democratic watch party that Democrats would maintain a majority in the chamber for the next two years.

“We don’t know the exact number of Democrats that will be in the House,” he said. “It will be a vast majority.”

He added that voters had responded to the issues Democrats focused on including abortion rights, health care costs and universal preschool.

“Colorado Democrats delivered on what they said they were going to deliver on and that’s why we have such a huge majority,” he said.

The House Republicans, who were hoping to chip away at the Democratic majority, acknowledged their poor showing in a written statement.

“Once again, Colorado voters showed an independence streak, bucking national trends that saw big wins for conservative Republicans in other states,” said Roger Hudson, deputy chief of staff for the House GOP caucus. “Though some state House races may not have finished the way we wanted, others certainly did, we in the Colorado House Republican Caucus continue to stand with the Colorado families who put their trust in us.”

Two races that Republicans were most upset about were in House District 25 in southern Jefferson County and House District 57 in the Glenwood Springs area.

In District 25, Republican Rep. Colin Larson, of Ken Caryl, was losing to Democratic Sen. Tammy Story, of Conifer, by 4 percentage points. Larson was expected to be a top contender for the House Republican leader position that opened up when House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, died suddenly on Oct. 30.

In District 57, Republican Rep. Perry Will, of Garfield County, was trailing Democrat Elizabeth Velasco by 8 percentage points.

In House District 12, Democratic Rep. Tracey Bernett, of Boulder County, beat her Republican opponent despite being criminally charged last week on suspicion of lying about her residence to run in District 12, which leans heavily Democratic.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.