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Commission race too close to call

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Incumbent Odom leads Tighe by 133 votes

By Vicky Gits

More than a week after Election Day, the county commission race in District 2 between incumbent John Odom and challenger Casey Tighe remains undecided, with thousands of provisional ballots still unrecorded.

Odom led by 133 votes after more than 260,000 ballots had been counted in the race in the early hours of Nov. 7. But the county elections office had accepted between 7,300 and 7,500 provisional ballots on Election Day from voters whose eligibility was undetermined. Election officials had 14 days to determine if those ballots can be counted, said Jeffco Deputy of Elections Josh Liss.

The county also received approximately 2,000 mail-in ballots with missing signatures on the envelope, or with unmatched signatures on the ballot itself. And the elections office also was anticipating outstanding ballots from overseas military voters.

And if the margin remains that thin in the commission race when provisional and military ballots are recorded, state law will require a recount. An update will be provided Thursday, and a final tally no later than Nov. 21, when it will be known whether a recount is needed.

Meanwhile, despite the frantic effort to court Jeffco voters with multiple appearances by the presidential ticket in the final months before the election, the Republicans’ hoped-for surge of anti-Obama sentiment failed to materialize.

Instead, the Democrats won not only the presidency, but a number of key races inside Jefferson County. Overall, the results in South Jeffco were mixed.

Democrat Andy Kerr won the contest to become state senator in the newly drawn District 22, and Democrat Diana DeGette won re-election to Congress from the redrawn 1st District, which now includes South Jeffco.

Meanwhile, Republican Justin Everett won the race to represent House District 22, and Republican Cheri Gerou decisively landed a third term in the state House from District 25.

Columbine Courier columnist Rob Witwer, a former GOP legislator, summed up the outcome in Jeffco.

“There’s no reason that strong Republican candidates can’t win in Jefferson County,” Witwer said. “Gerou is proof of that. But this was a year when the down-ticket Republicans were affected by the big-picture trends. If Romney had done more strongly, candidates like Lang Sias, Rick Enstrom and Amy Attwood (all Republicans who lost races in the county) would have done better.

“Dems continue to have an organizational advantage. That’s a big part of it,” he said. “This year the Republican Party’s brand was negatively affected by candidates like (Richard) Mourdock in Indiana and (Todd) Akin in Missouri, who made insensitive comments about rape. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t think that has consequences. Cheri (Gerou) is proof that strong candidates who know what they are talking about are going to be rewarded by voters.”

In the run-up to the election, it seemed that every time one presidential campaign staged a Denver area media event, the other campaign came back with even bigger fanfare. Both camps were determined to win over Jeffco, which was considered a swing county in a key swing state, with nearly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Mitt Romney gave two speeches in Jefferson County, one at the fairgrounds in August and another at D’Evelyn High School on Sept. 23. Ann Romney visited Hudson Gardens on Oct. 3, and Romney and Paul Ryan packed Red Rocks Amphitheater on Oct. 23.

Romney came back Nov. 3 to rally support at Comfort Dental Amphitheater in Englewood.

Between August and November, President Barack Obama came to Golden, Boulder and Aurora.

In the end the Democrats prevailed, with Obama gaining 51 percent of the Jefferson County vote and Romney landing 47 percent. The turnout reached 73 percent of the total registered voters and 93 percent of active voters, according to the Jeffco elections website, Votejeffco.com, based on 302,580 total ballots cast.

About 80 percent of the electorate voted by mail ballot, but the elections office still had polling places at 175 locations. Based on a spot check of three locations, the process was orderly and lines were nonexistent.

A Democrat in Congress

Perhaps the biggest change for South Jeffco voters was sending a Democrat, Denver resident DeGette, to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s 6th District was redrawn in 2011 to exclude South Jeffco, leaving the area represented by a nearly unbeatable Democrat with a huge following. In the congressional race, DeGette led in Jefferson County with 20,648 votes, while her opponent, Danny Stroud, got 15,316 votes.

Losers included Mary Parker, a Littleton Democtrat running for state representative in HD 22; Lakewood Republican Ken Summers for state senator in District 22; and Evergreen Democrat Lorna Idol in HD 25.

The outcomes seemed to confirm that the redistricting and reapportionment processes had the intended effect of creating more competitive districts, giving Democrats a better chance.

Summary of races

(numbers based on final, unofficial Election Day results from the Jeffco Elections Division)

• County Commissioner, District 2

John Odom  (R)

Casey Tighe (D)

To be decided

With all precincts reporting as of Election Day, incumbent County Commissioner Odom was ahead by 133 votes, with 131,940 to Casey Tighe’s 131,807. If Odom wins, it means the Board of Commissioners will continue to constitute an exclusively Republican group of three. GOP incumbent Faye Griffin ran unopposed, and Republican Don Rosier’s seat was not up for election.

Although inexperienced politically, Tighe brought a legal background and a career as CDOT auditor to the race. Odom, a Republican who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by former commissioner Kevin McCasky, had the benefit of incumbency and a background as owner of a small business.

Tighe had promised to keep a closer eye on county spending and communicate more with constituents. Odom had pledged to continue his efforts to keep the county’s fiscal house in order and stressed his belief in private property, small government and entrepreneurism.

The rivals clashed over the wisdom of maintaining a county-level audit committee, which Tighe chaired for five years until the county commissioners disbanded it in 2011.

After the election Tighe gave credit for his impressive showing to hard work and great volunteers.

“We had a message that resonated with the public,” he said. “We talked about more community involvement, changing the tone to be more cooperative and collaborative, paying more attention to the local community. I knocked on a lot of doors and talked to a lot of voters.”

• U.S. Congress, District 1

Diana DeGette (D)

Danny Stroud (R)

Incumbent Democrat Diana DeGette was an early winner Nov. 6 in Colorado congressional races, easily defeating Republican Danny Stroud in the redrawn 1st District and landing a ninth term in office.

DeGette had 68 percent of the vote and an insurmountable lead by 8 p.m. on Election Day. By the time all the votes were counted, DeGette's lead had shrunk considerably to 53 percent versus Stroud with 42 percent. DeGette's victory coincided with Obama’s, who captured 51 percent of Jefferson County votes, compared to Mitt Romney with 47 percent. 

After winning eight consecutive elections since 1996, DeGette had been serving a Denver constituency exclusively. She became a factor in South Jeffco politics when District 1 was redrawn in 2011 to include much of South Jeffco. DeGette highlighted her Jeffco debut by kicking off her campaign with a rally at the Columbine Library on Jan. 19.

Stroud, a businessman and former head of the Denver GOP, hoped to capitalize on general disenchantment with Obama’s policies by offering a much more conservative, business-friendly and economics-focused approach to government.

Stroud was hoping to win over the 30 percent of total voters in the district who are unaffiliated. Stroud ran on his military service, West Point degree and conservative values of self-reliance and entrepreneurship. He lives in Denver County, one block away from the Jeffco border.

After the election, Stroud was astonished.

“We (the general public) voted for every single tax on every ballot,” he said. “We legalized marijuana, the House went back to the Dems, and we voted for Referendum S to give government even more power. We conservatives lost on nearly everything.

“I’m a little bit demoralized. I knew my chances were a long shot. But I thought we would be able to turn it red again. I’m just concerned about (Republicans’) ability to save ourselves,” Stroud said. “When you come down to it, the Dems do a better job at targeting micro interest groups. When people say it was a close race, a minority participated. A silent majority out there is asleep.”

He could have done a couple of things differently, he says. “I still think I’m naïve about politics. … We took a principles approach. I would have done more to make it personal,” Stroud said.

• State Senate District 22

Andy Kerr (D)

Ken Summers (R)

In a Jeffco race that attracted a considerable amount of money from outside groups, Democrat Andy Kerr won over Republican Ken Summers in state Senate District 22.

Kerr captured 52.4 percent of the vote to Summers' 47.6  percent.

South Jeffco residents were flooded with negative mailers targeting both Kerr and Summers in the last few weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

Both Kerr (HD 26) and Summers (HD 22) were incumbent state representatives in their third terms who spotted an opportunity in the vacant Senate District 22. They launched bids for the job after the current officeholder, Republican Tim Neville, was excluded from his own district as a result of reapportionment.

Summers, a pastor and executive director of Teen Challenge of the Rocky Mountains, was running on a jobs and small-business platform.

A teacher in Jeffco Public Schools, Kerr was running as an education advocate, as well as promoting jobs and small businesses.

In a post-election conversation, Kerr gave credit for his victory to outreach and availability. “I think it was a combination of, No. 1, my volunteers came out and we knocked on doors and talked to people individually. At the end of the day, people want to be heard. … When people stand on the doorstep and look you in the eye, people responded to that.”

He also delivered 20,000 pieces of mail with his personal cell-phone number on them, generating 25 to 35 calls per week. “I think that resonated with people …,” Kerr said. “They get a live person. You have a live conversation. They may disagree about something at first, but in 90 percent of the cases they indicated they were going to be supportive.”

Kerr decided that speaking out in favor of 3A and 3B, the Jeffco Schools’ mill levy and bond issue, was advantageous. “I ignored the experts and was clear about supporting the mill and bond and investing in education … . That’s a critical part as we talk about school reform and educating for the 21st century.”

Kerr assumes the Senate seat for two years instead of six because he is technically filling out the term of Mike Kopp, who resigned for personal reasons.

• State House District 22

Justin Everett (R)

Mary Parker (D)

Republican Justin Everett convincingly won the election for state representative from House District 22 against Democrat Mary Parker with 22,698 votes, or 53 percent. Parker, a political newcomer, garnered 18,867 votes in the Republican-dominated district.

A South Jeffco native and former president of CoHOPE, Everett launched the campaign season by winning a tough primary against Republican Loren Bauman.

Parker came on strong with an energetic campaign and experience as a small-business owner, a volunteer and a working mom. 

Everett had the benefit of name recognition, small-business experience and a predominance of Republican-registered voters in District 22. He ran on his traditional conservative values and belief in smaller government and self-reliance.

The incumbent in House District 22, Republican Ken Summers, ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in this election.

House District 25

Cheri Gerou (R)

Lorna Idol (D)

Republican Cheri Gerou of Evergreen won her third term as state representative from House District 25 after winning 25,226 votes, or 55 percent, in a race against Democratic challenger Lorna Idol, who had 40 percent, or 18,539 votes.

Gerou had the benefit of being an expert on state finances and the chair of the Joint Budget Committee. Idol, an educational consultant who specialized in collaborative decision-making, is a university professor with a research background.

An architect who has lived in Evergreen for 20 years, Gerou first was elected in 2008, replacing Rep. Rob Witwer, who decided not to seek re-election.

As a result of reapportionment, Gerou’s geographic territory expanded to the southeast to include an area east of C-470 and bounded by Quincy Avenue, Simms Street and the Meadows Golf Club.