The race to control Colorado’s congressional delegation in 2012 is off to an early start. After Republicans Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner defeated incumbents John Salazar in District 3 and Betsy Markey in District 4 in 2010, the balance of power among Colorado’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives shifted from 5-2 for Democrats to 4-3 for Republicans. The two seats that changed hands in Colorado were part of the landslide that gave Republicans control of the House. Now, despite the fact that we don’t even know where congressional boundaries will be drawn, three sitting Democratic state legislators have announced their intentions to run against incumbent Republican congressmen.
Tipton and Gardner face challenges from Sal Pace, the Pueblo Democrat who is minority leader of Colorado’s House of Representatives, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer of Longmont. National Democratic leaders recruited Pace and Shaffer. Additionally, Joe Miklosi, a Democrat from south Denver, will run against Congressman Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District.
The most interesting thing about these emerging races is that we still don’t even know where congressional boundary lines will be drawn. The legislature was unable to come up with a redistricting plan, and the decision was thrown to the courts. Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt will hear the case beginning Oct. 17. A little-known fact is that members of Congress do not need to live in the districts they represent as long as they are residents of the state. So, Pace may run against Tipton whether Pueblo and Cortez both end up in the 3rd, and Shaffer can take on Gardner even if Longmont and Yuma are not both in the 4th. Miklosi and Coffman will be able to run in the 6th regardless of where the lines are drawn. While all these candidates may run legally, it becomes more difficult to mount a campaign if your opponent can ask why you’re running in a different district than where you live.
Until we see where Hyatt draws congressional boundaries, it’s hard to guess if the districts will be competitive and how viable these candidates will be. Incumbents are most vulnerable in their earliest re-election campaigns. Markey had served just one term before being ousted by Gardner, and Salazar had served just two before Tipton took his place. The 2012 elections will be fought on many fronts as President Obama runs for re-election and control of the House and Senate nationally and in Colorado are up for grabs.
It’s not surprising that challengers for congressional seats don’t think they can wait for lines to be drawn to start campaigning. Whether they are running in competitive districts and if they end up living in the districts they want to represent will be interesting stories worth watching closely.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.