The diversity and competitiveness of Colorado’s new 8th District has it primed to serve as a key House race in congressional midterms this year and beyond.
Candidates and outside groups are planning to spend millions of dollars appealing to the district, which includes large suburban and Hispanic communities coveted by both parties looking to control the Congress next year.
“I could see this as a bellwether, both nationally and in Colorado,” said Doug Friednash, who was chief of staff to Sen. John Hickenlooper (D) when he was governor, and who heads the state and local government relations department at the lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R) and state Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D) won their party’s nominations last week for the district’s first House race, which the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates as the most competitive in the state. The district, allotted to Colorado after the once-a-decade apportionment, radiates north from the Denver suburbs into the plains abutting the Rocky Mountains. Oil wells and farms line Interstate Highway 25 along the district’s western border.
President Joe Biden carried the district by 5 points in 2020, according to Dave’s Redistricting App. But Hickenlooper beat then-Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in the same area by a narrower 1.7% on the same ballot, according to the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission.
Most Hispanic District
Almost 39% of the new district is Hispanic, the highest such percentage among the state’s congressional districts. The heavily Latino suburbs in Adams County could make the district especially consequential “for the next 10 years,” according to Colorado-based Democratic consultant Alvina Vasquez.
To reach voters, especially in working-class families with fewer college degrees, Democrats would need to reframe the debate and focus on “tools” for building a better life and avoid “villainizing” the oil and gas industry that permeates the district, Vasquez said.
“We need Democrats to talk about things in a way that make sense to us,” Vasquez said.
Caraveo, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, said the district’s Latino community is “a perfect example” of the diversity of the diaspora, which includes agricultural workers on temporary visas and the descendants of immigrants who have surged into the district over the last decade.
“They need somebody that reflects their background, who looks like them, talks like them, understands what it’s like to grow up Latino in Colorado,” Caraveo said in an interview. She would be the first Latina from Colorado elected to Congress.
The district could test whether Republicans can continue to improve the party’s appeal to Hispanic voters. The GOP overperformed in South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley in 2020 and elected Rep. Mayra Flores (R) in a South Texas special election last month.
“I consider the Hispanic population part of the fabric of our community,” Kirkmeyer said in an interview at a diner in the Denver suburb of Brighton. “They’re my friends, my neighbors, they’re people I go to church with. So they know me, they know what I can do, and they know what I have done.”
The district’s robust fossil-fuel industry and high gas prices could give Kirkmeyer one opening to appeal to voters. According to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, just 13 permits for oil and gas development projects have been approved in the last year in Weld County, which coincides with the new congressional district. Another 13 permits in the county await approval.
Caraveo in 2019 sponsored legislation aimed at improving health and safety of oil and gas exploration. Industry advocates opposed it, arguing it would curb development.
“Caraveo is part of the far left of the Democratic Party,” said Greg Brophy, a former Republican state legislator who sought the governorship in 2014. “And I think what we’re seeing nationwide in the polling is that the average Hispanic voter is not particularly interested in the uber-left.”
Caraveo said she supported a gas tax holiday as “a good temporary fix” for high gas prices but that ensuring oil companies aren’t “price gouging” was also a priority.
“If these companies wanted to increase their production here, they could have,” Caraveo said.
Democrats have sought to paint Kirkmeyer’s positions, including her support for the Supreme Court ruling last month to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision and a 2013 effort to allow the county she represented to secede, as being outside the mainstream.
They have also lambasted her dismissal of gun-control laws. In the interview, Kirkmeyer said provisions in gun-safety legislation Biden signed June 25 (Public Law 117-159) offering incentives to states that implement “red flag” laws lacked proper due-process considerations for those losing access to their firearms.
Kirkmeyer spent the part of the day before the primary at a diner in Brighton, where supporters peppered her with questions about gun control, the US-Mexico border, and eliminating the US Department of Education as they snacked on pancakes and breakfast burritos.
They also repeatedly brought up the economy, with Kirkmeyer responding that boosting production in the district’s oil and gas industry — as well as its agriculture — would help avoid recession and reduce inflation.
In the interview, Kirkmeyer said voters in the district are “God-fearing, tax-hating, gun-loving people” and that the campaign should “stick to those issues.”
Caraveo, a pediatrician, said that she’s heard for years about the cost of living in Denver that compelled commuters to move to bedroom communities as far as Greeley, an hour away from Denver. She said those issues prompted her to first run for the state legislature, where she represents parts of the suburb.
“I really truly understand those issues firsthand,” Caraveo said, “not just having grown up with them and seeing my parents worry about how they were gonna make ends meet, but hearing it time and time again in clinic.”
Mike Coffman (R), the mayor of Aurora who previously represented the Democratic-leaning Denver suburbs in the House for a decade, said the district’s partisan split and the “basic laws of political physics” indicate the race is Kirkmeyer’s to lose and that Caraveo would need “a miracle” to win. “This is just not a normal year,” he said.
But future elections may not be as kind to his party. “God help the Republican that gets the district,” Coffman said. “When Republicans have the White House and the House and the Senate, it’s payback time.”
With assistance from Greg Giroux
To contact the reporter on this story: Zach C. Cohen in Denver at email@example.com