Posted October 6, 2008 at 10:23am



Open seat: Wayne Allard (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Nearly every poll taken of this race has shown Rep. Mark Udall (D) with a reversible but still decisive lead over former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R).

The energy issue played well for Schaffer over the summer and may yet play dividends for him in late October. But Udall, an ardent environmentalist, appears to have pivoted out of trouble nicely by going on television and saying he supports more domestic oil drilling.

Udall actually does have a House voting record that is more liberal than most Colorado voters, and Schaffer has a good case to make that the Democratic Congressman is likely to govern to the left of where many Coloradans would be comfortable.

But Udall has never been in trouble in this race. It’s Schaffer who has periodically been on the defensive, particularly over his ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And Udall simply appears to be the more likeable of the two candidates, with the Democrat’s outdoorsy, rugged image proving a good counterweight to his liberal record.

Ultimately, this race will be decided by the swing-voting women who live in the Denver suburbs. They tend to lean conservative philosophically but have voted for Democrats in recent years, including now-Sen. Ken Salazar in 2004 and now-Gov. Bill Ritter in 2006.

Schaffer could see a big lift from rural Colorado and his old stomping grounds in the northern 4th district. A high turnout in these regions combined with some help from the Republican White House ticket — particularly the vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — could propel him to victory.

But Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been competitive with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in Colorado throughout the campaign, and it’s hard to see how even a narrow GOP presidential victory aids Schaffer.


2nd district
Open seat: Mark Udall (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Wealthy Internet entrepreneur and former state Board of Education President Jared Polis emerged from a bruising Democratic primary to capture his party’s nomination, and he now has an easy path to victory on Nov. 4 in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

At least Republican Scott Starin can say he was on the ballot.

4th district
Incumbent: Marilyn Musgrave (R)
3rd term (46 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

The northern and eastern Colorado 4th district leans decidedly Republican and has been held by the GOP since the early 1970s. But Musgrave, having taken a pounding from Democrats and Democratic interest groups since the 2004 cycle, looks headed toward defeat at the hands of former Senate aide Betsy Markey (D).

Musgrave barely survived in the previous cycle, but she squeaked by in large part because her 2006 opponent was a poor fit for the district and perceived as too liberal. Markey, however, is increasingly seen as an acceptable Democrat, according to both independent polls and partisan Democratic surveys.

Markey is running as a practical, business-minded Democrat, much in the same vein as did now-Sen. Ken Salazar and now-Gov. Bill Ritter. Markey also has a decent understanding of the district, having worked for Salazar as his in-state director for the region covering most of the 4th district.

Musgrave continues to suffer from a reputation that she went to Washington, D.C., and got caught up in opposing same-sex marriage at the expense of bread-and-butter issues and constituent services. But she has tried hard this Congress to reverse it.

Musgrave, who farms along with her husband in a small community 90 minutes northeast of Denver, has traveled home nearly every weekend during her tenure and boasts some high-profile bipartisan achievements with Rep. Mark Udall (D) — Udall himself has bragged about these achievements as he seeks to position himself as a centrist in the Senate race.

But ultimately, Musgrave might be most known for carrying a bill in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage. And the nearly $10 million in independent expenditures that has been spent against her to tear down her image looks poised to finally have its desired effect.

Still, the 4th district is reflexively conservative, and a strong victory there by the Republican White House ticket might aid Musgrave, along with the possibility that the district’s voters might yet stay true to their political moorings.

6th district
Open seat: Tom Tancredo (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman won a competitive four-way Republican primary on Aug. 12, and he looks to cruise to victory this November in this solidly conservative, suburban Denver district.

Aviation consultant Hank Eng is the Democrats’ sacrificial lamb.



Open seat: Larry Craig (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) could be headed toward another 20-point victory over former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D). LaRocco lost to Risch by nearly 20 points in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, and he shows no signs that he can beat Risch in this contest.

LaRocco should be credited for running a spirited race. He has campaigned up and down the state for about 18 months, attempting to build support in the Republican bastion that is Idaho by working jobs in different industries for a day or two at a time.

LaRocco’s campaign is also reasonably well-staffed, helping to ensure that the underdog Democrat squeezes every ounce of attention he can get from earned media.

But LaRocco’s got three problems: He’s a Democrat, he’s a liberal and he’s extremely underfunded compared to Risch. Meanwhile, Risch — though not universally loved — is fairly well-liked and very well-known.

During his first term as lieutenant governor, Risch was elevated to the governor’s office after then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) left the job to serve in President Bush’s Cabinet. Risch’s record while serving in the top job did nothing to cause himself any major political problems in the Senate race.

Risch chose to run for re-election as lieutenant governor in 2006, even though he was officially the governor in the midst of that re-election.


1st district
Incumbent: Bill Sali (R)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Democrat Walt Minnick is running just the campaign required to upset Sali.

The 1996 Senate candidate and wealthy former CEO of a forest products company is attempting to position himself as a libertarian-style moderate Democrat, while capitalizing on the fact that Sali has failed to ingratiate himself with his constituents, most of whom are partisan Republicans.

Minnick has a few high-profile Republicans backing him, and he continues to raise far more money than the incumbent, not to mention his willingness to spend personal money.

But even given Sali’s penchant for bad PR and his poor relationship with many top Idaho Republicans, the incumbent has in his favor the 1st district’s strong GOP lean and the fact that it is a presidential year.

Additionally, despite Sali’s contentious relationship with Republicans like Gov. Butch Otter and Rep. Mike Simpson, he has managed to bond with many of the local GOP’s grass-roots activists. That, and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) expected big victory in the district over Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), should be enough to protect Sali from himself.



Incumbent: Max Baucus (D)
5th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

It doesn’t get any easier for Baucus. The Senate Finance chairman is facing perennial candidate Bob Kelleher (R), whose platform includes changing the federal government into a parliamentary system.

Baucus, nonetheless, was prepared for a more formidable challenge. Before the June primary, the Big Sky Senator had more than $5.5 million in the bank, dozens of staffers on the ground and campaign offices all over the state. It could be argued that Baucus was attempting to win votes by employing everyone in the state.

In the weeks leading up to the election, you won’t hear much from these campaigns. Barring some major unforeseen event, Baucus will win re-election easily.


Incumbent: Denny Rehberg (R)
4th term (59 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Although state Democrats recruited someone to run against Rehberg, their chosen candidate lost the primary to a quirky perennial candidate. Former Public Service Commissioner and state Speaker John Driscoll has no intention of raising any money or going out of his way to campaign for the seat.

While some political observers thought Rehberg could be vulnerable this cycle, he’s getting an easy ride to re-election.



3rd district
Open seat: Chris Cannon lost the GOP primary
Outlook: Safe Republican

After stunning the Utah political establishment by nearly knocking off Cannon at May’s Republican state convention, former gubernatorial aide Jason Chaffetz finished the job in June, beating the Congressman by 20 points in the Republican primary.

Cannon had teetered on the brink of political extinction in the past, winning competitive GOP primaries in 2004 and 2006 after barely surviving challenges at his state party conventions. But Chaffetz, the former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), ran a strong anti-Washington, D.C., grass-roots campaign that proved very effective.

Chaffetz now appears to be a shoo-in to come to Capitol Hill for the 111th Congress. He faces a general election campaign against college professor Bennion Spencer (D), but Utah’s 3rd district, in the central part of the state, is overwhelmingly Republican.

An early September poll showed Chaffetz at 60 percent while Spencer took a meager 18 percent.



Regular election
Incumbent: Mike Enzi (R)
2nd term (73 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Enzi faces college professor Chris Rothfuss (D) on Nov. 4. He should roll to another easy victory and a third term. Gov. Dave Freudenthal could have made this seat competitive, but he declined to run when asked to by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Special election
Incumbent: John Barrasso (R) was appointed on June 22, 2007
Outlook: Safe Republican

Barrasso was appointed to replace Sen. Craig Thomas (R), who died in early June 2007 after having easily won re-election the previous November.

Though potentially a target because of the often-quirky nature of special elections, Barrasso should be fine this November against attorney Nick Carter (D). A Barrasso victory would entitle him to finish out the remainder of the six-year term Thomas won in 2006.

Barrasso, a state Senator before being appointed to the Senate by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, was already known statewide because of his work around the state as an orthopedic surgeon. He has taken easily to his new job, working on issues important to his state on the legislative side and raising a healthy amount of money on the political side.

Additionally, he is running in a solidly conservative state and should be further buoyed by the fact that it is a presidential year. Freudenthal is probably the only Wyoming Democrat who could have made this race competitive this year, but he declined to run, showing no interest in serving on Capitol Hill.


Incumbent: Barbara Cubin (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican

Former two-term state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis (R) might not raise more money than Internet entrepreneur Gary Trauner (D). And her campaign might not be as crisp.

But in a Republican state and in a presidential year, the well-known GOP politician is better-positioned for victory.

Trauner nearly knocked off Cubin in 2006, capitalizing on the Congresswoman’s unpopularity at home and the GOP’s political problems in that election. This time around, he is better-known and more accepted by the electorate as one of them — Trauner is a New York native.

But Lummis carries none of Cubin’s baggage, and the expanded universe of voters who show up for presidential elections but not for midterms should play in her favor.

Additionally, Trauner is not running as a conservative Democrat in the vein of popular Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), and he is therefore likely to fail to engender the same kind of appeal among Republican and conservative independent voters.