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Mountain: Colorado Only Hotbed of Activity in Rockies



Incumbent: Michael Bennet (D)
1st term (appointed January 2009)
Outlook: Tossup

This race is a true political battleground. Along with Delaware, Illinois and New York, this was one of several Democratic-held Senate seats directly affected by President Barack Obama’s election — and three of the four could now fall into GOP hands.

After a successful career in the private sector and as an education reformer, Bennet has been in office for 21 months and finds himself in an unusual position. Despite running in his first election ever, he’s being forced to prove he hasn’t “gone Washington” after being appointed to fill an open Senate seat.

To say he is in jeopardy of losing to Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) would be putting it lightly. Although the state has trended Democratic in recent cycles, polling has shown that is not the case this time.

Both candidates and campaign committees were on the air in the state by mid-September. Buck hit Bennet for having a “record of overspending, overregulating and overtaxing.”

Buck, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and outside groups such as American Crossroads that are working in support of GOP candidates are all on the air tying Bennet to the Democratic agenda.

Republicans have hammered Bennet for his support of the stimulus — which he voted for just a few weeks after being appointed.

Meanwhile, Bennet argues that Buck holds views that are more extreme than that of the average Coloradoan and is not fit for the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee agrees with Bennet, and it has launched more than a few television ads in the state highlighting some of Buck’s positions, such as privatizing Social Security, closing the Department of Education and criticizing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of Senators.

Still, many Republicans in Washington, D.C., think they may have gotten the better nominee in Buck, who defeated establishment favorite Jane Norton in the primary.


3rd district
Incumbent: John Salazar (D)
3rd term (62 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Thanks to a lack of competitive challengers, Salazar has won back-to-back re-elections with 62 percent in this Republican-leaning district. This cycle could be a different story in the Western Slope, where state Rep. Scott Tipton (R) is back after being stomped by Salazar in 2006.

That cycle was difficult for Republicans everywhere, but this one isn’t. And GOP polling at the end of August found Tipton above 50 percent and holding an 8-point lead over Salazar. The district still hasn’t made it onto the National Republican Congressional Committee’s target list for TV ads, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in October.

Tipton spent about $800,000 against Salazar in their first meeting, and he’ll likely need to at least match that to topple the Congressman this time. Salazar was on the air with a negative ad by mid-September, accusing Tipton of supporting cuts to Medicare and the privatization of Social Security — two claims that Tipton adamantly denied.

This is definitely a race that bears watching.

4th district
Incumbent: Betsy Markey (D)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Two years ago this was a top pickup opportunity for Democrats. This cycle, things are just the opposite: It’s looking increasingly likely that Markey will not be returning to Congress next year, despite her distinction of having the largest winning margin against a Republican incumbent in 2008.

But Markey’s huge margin of victory in 2008 does not reflect the true conservative nature of this district. The Congresswoman’s own poll in early September showed the incumbent earning just
38 percent and tied with state Rep. Cory Gardner (R), who days earlier had touted a Republican poll showing him with a wide lead.

After capitalizing on the conservative social views of then-Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) in 2008, Markey is looking to make an issue of Gardner’s position on abortion.

If Markey loses, it won’t be because she slacked on fundraising — she had double Gardner’s cash in the bank through mid-July. But the swing nature of the district, coupled with a strong challenger in Gardner, will likely be enough to sweep Markey out with the GOP tide.



Incumbent: Mike Crapo (R)
2nd term (99 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Nothing to see here. After cruising through the primary, Crapo should have no trouble in November against Democrat Tom Sullivan, a financial consultant, and be back next year for a third term. Crapo took 70 percent and carried every county in his first Senate bid in 1998, and he faced no Democratic opposition at all in 2004.


1st district
Incumbent: Walt Minnick (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

After defeating then-Rep. Bill Sali (R) in 2008, Minnick was considered among the most vulnerable Democrats. That’s mostly because this district is one of the most conservative in the country

However, in his first term, Minnick carved out one of the most independent voting records in the House, and he’s now considered more likely than not to buck the national trend and return to Congress for a second term.

Minnick’s prospects received a boost in May when state Rep. Raul Labrador won the GOP nomination over establishment favorite Vaughn Ward, who holds the distinction of being the only National Republican Congressional Committee Young Gun to lose a primary. Ward made some embarrassing mistakes and lost, despite being among the first 10 candidates named to the top tier of the NRCC’s recruiting program and receiving substantial support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

Labrador was backed by tea party groups in the primary, and he hopes that energy carries through to the general. But a Sept. 21 Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey showed Minnick leading
46 percent to 36 percent, and a Republican poll in August showed Minnick’s lead to be twice as large.



Incumbent: Denny Rehberg (R)
5th term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

After defeating two primary challengers with ease, Rehberg should have little trouble against former state Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald. In fact, most of the chatter surrounding Rehberg’s bid for a sixth term is what office he will run for in 2012.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s term is up then, and the first-term Senator would face stiff competition in Rehberg, who has regularly won re-election with about
60 percent of the vote.



Open seat: Sen. Bob Bennett (R) was defeated at the nominating convention
Outlook: Safe Republican

Attorney Mike Lee (R) is expected to easily win the open seat against businessman Sam Granato (D) in this conservative state. Lee, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, helped defeat Bennett in the nominating convention and then outlasted businessman Tim Bridgewater in the primary.


2nd district
Incumbent: Jim Matheson (D)
5th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

While this district regularly votes Republican at the presidential level, it has sent Matheson to Congress since 2000 and doesn’t appear likely to change course this year.

Former state Rep. Morgan Philpot was the only Republican to step forward to challenge Matheson, despite a favorable climate for the GOP. Through the first half of the year, Philpot had trouble keeping up with Matheson’s fundraising and other incumbent advantages.

He has yet to make a deep impression on the National Republican Congressional Committee, which still has not advanced him past the initial tier of its Young Guns program.

Philpot went on TV in mid-September attacking Matheson for a lack of production in Congress. The ad stated that Matheson had introduced just two bills that became law during a decade of service — an argument the Matheson campaign quickly debunked.



Incumbent: Cynthia Lummis (R)
1st term (53 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Lummis has been in elected office almost constantly since the 1970s, including stints in the state House and state Senate and two terms as state treasurer. That streak will no doubt continue next year, as she is headed to a second term in one of the most Republican states in the country.

Challenging the freshman Republican is Democrat David Wendt, an environmental think tank president in Jackson Hole, who had just $4,000 in the bank at the end of July.

Lummis has had more visibility than most freshman lawmakers, as party leadership often gives her roles at its weekly press conferences.

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