We’ve been waiting to publish our annual “Winners and Losers” lists from the election until all of the big races had been finalized. But with the outcome in CO-03 likely headed to a recount, it’s time to just move ahead.
Up first is our list of “Winners” from 2022. This is not merely a list of winning candidates, of course, but a deeper dive into the winningest winners of the election cycle. We’ll post our “Losers” list separately.
The Winningest Winners of 2022
Republican candidates lied with impunity in 2022, but Colorado voters chose instead to believe their own eyes about the state of the state in which they live. Colorado schools are not overrun by kids in “furry” costumes. Colorado is not #2 in fentanyl deaths. Denver is not a smoking crater in the ground. Jared Polis did not steal your car. Google is not out to get Joe O’Dea.
In politics, as in life, sometimes your best moves are the ones you DON’T make. Republican Las Animas County Commissioner Felix Lopez was GOP gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl’s first choice to be her running mate and Lieutenant Governor – to the point that Ganahl was teasing an announcement in early July. But Lopez started having second thoughts as an announcement neared and ultimately decided to back out. Ganahl’s candidacy ended up being so historically bad that everyone who was at all associated with her campaign will be forever tainted. Perhaps Lopez is not interested in seeking higher office, but at least now he still has that option.
Lisa Cutter and Tammy Story
These Jefferson County Democrats were significantly impacted by redistricting and other political decisions taking place in their respective orbits.
When Brittany Pettersen decided to seek a seat in Congress, Cutter was the obvious choice to run for Pettersen’s Lakewood-area State Senate seat. The problem for Cutter was that Republican Tim Walsh was willing and able to spend more than a million dollars of his own money to become a state senator himself. Despite a barrage of advertising in SD-20, Cutter ended up winning by nearly 10 points.
Story was a State Senator herself when redistricting changed the political landscape and chopped up her Southwest Jefferson County Senate district. Instead of taking the loss and moving on, Story decided to run for a State House seat in South Jeffco (HD-25) and ended up pulling off an upset (an incumbent State Senator running for State House is incredibly rare). Story’s narrow victory in HD-25 proved very consequential for Republicans, because it ousted incumbent Rep. Colin Larson – who was likely to become the next House Minority Leader if he had been re-elected.
Senate President Steve Fenberg has now led his caucus to three consecutive majorities, including an unprecedented 23-vote majority in 2022. Fenberg should remain in charge of the State Senate through 2024 and will be well-positioned for higher office when he’s finished.
Winning re-election had been a foregone conclusion for months, given the sheer ineptitude of Republican Heidi Ganahl. But winning re-election by 20 points was something that virtually nobody saw coming. Polis is only the fourth major statewide candidate in Colorado to win by 20+ points since 1990. Polis was first elected Governor in 2018 by an 11-point margin; clearly, Colorado voters approve of both Polis and his policies.
The incumbent Democratic Senator had been elected twice before, but had never quite reached 50% of the total vote in Colorado (he came really close in 2016). As of this writing, Bennet is on the cusp of surpassing 56% of the total vote, extending his margin of victory over Republican Joe O’Dea to 15 points.
Most Colorado Media Outlets
National media outlets played a silly game that we documented repeatedly in which they pretended that Republican Joe O’Dea might knock off incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who ended up winning by 15 points. Most Colorado media outlets did not buy into this nonsense narrative and instead focused on actual on-the-ground reporting to guide their coverage – in this race and every other in Colorado.
Colorado journalists did a good job asking the relevant questions of candidates, from Heidi Ganahl’s September 2021 campaign kickoff to the fall 2022 debates. For example:
♦ Jesse Paul of The Colorado Sun asking O’Dea if he voted YES on Proposition 115, a 2020 ballot measure that sought to make abortion illegal after 22 weeks of pregnancy (a measure opposed by 69% of Colorado voters). This was a great question that clarified O’Dea’s impossible efforts to dance around the subject and take every side of the abortion issue, and it was a question that only a good local reporter would know to ask;
♦ Spencer Soicher of KRDO in Colorado Springs asking Ganahl if she really believed that Colorado schools were being overrun by “furries.” Ganahl doubled-down on her nonsense claims, validating Soicher’s question;
♦ Longtime Denver Post editor Dean Singleton hosting a candidate forum in which he repeatedly pressed Ganahl to provide actual details on some of her loudest claims (including her nonsense proposal to eliminate Colorado’s income tax without a plan for how to make up the resulting $11 billion budget shortfall);
♦ Multiple news outlets reporting the facts about various residency questions for several candidates.
♦ Kyle Clark of 9News pressing O’Dea to provide proof for his claim that Google was “censoring” his campaign, which led to one of our favorite quotes of the election cycle.
♦ 9News, Fox 31, Denver7 and other outlets calling out CD-8 candidate Barb Kirkmeyer’s indefensible lie that Democrats “legalized fentanyl.” In taking apart this falsehood, 9News educated viewers on how reporters evaluate misleading statements from candidates, and what escalates a merely false statement from a “lie” (when a candidate, in this case Kirkmeyer, KNOWS that what they are saying is untrue).
In future elections, we’d like more of this, please.
There were exceptions to this trend, unfortunately. Shaun Boyd of CBS4 Denver regularly showed that she has no interest whatsoever in trying to get a story correct; she was just about the only local journalist who bought into the nonsense “O’Dea surprise” narrative pushed by Republican operatives. Many of her “truth tests” were flat out wrong on the details and the facts presented. Her ridiculous story suggesting that every school district in Colorado was covering up a non-existent “furry” epidemic should never have made it onto the air. Whether Boyd is just lazy or an outright hack, we would be embarrassed to work with her.
Residents of CO-03
Regardless of the final outcome between incumbent Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert and Democrat Adam Frisch, voters in CO-03 stood up and declared that they were fed up with Boebert’s silly theatrics and her lack of accomplishments in the district. Multiple stories emerged before and after the election in which voters – many of them Republicans – told reporters that they were embarrassed by Boebert’s antics and just wanted a Representative who would do the actual job required of them.
If Boebert does manage to eke out another term, Republicans would be wise to organize strong opposition in a GOP Primary so that they aren’t facing another election in which they could lose a seat that otherwise favors Republicans by 9 points.
Non-Republican Polling Outfits
Lots of Republican pollsters made fools of themselves in 2022. Meanwhile, polling from Global Strategy Group (including the “Mountaineer”) and the University of Colorado did a good job of accurately measuring what was really happening in our state. The Colorado Sun covered this well in a recent edition of its “Unaffiliated” newsletter.
Colorado’s Election System
Colorado’s all-mail ballot system worked perfectly once again. It is both easy to cast a ballot in Colorado and difficult to vote fraudulently. You can track your ballot in Colorado through its entire life cycle, from when it gets sent out in the mail to when it is received by your county clerk. The only people who want more restrictions on voting are those who want fewer people to cast ballots.
This Tweet from former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was “liked” and “shared” by several Colorado Republican “leaders.” What critics of Colorado’s voting system are really saying is that they believe we should change the voting age to “middle-age white people” so that Republicans might be able to win elections in Colorado.
It’s tough to find a Republican “Winner” from 2022, but we’ll go with Lynch after the Northern Colorado Republican was elected House Minority Leader following another awful Election Day for the GOP. We debated about whether to put this in the “Losers” category, however, because being the House Minority Leader in a Republican caucus in 2023 is like “winning” a basket full of rattlesnakes infected with COVID.
Women in the General Assembly
For the first time in state history, more than 50% of the members of the Colorado legislature are women. That’s pretty cool.
Caraveo’s victory in the newly-formed CO-08 was considered by some national prognosticators – including Nathaniel Rakich of 538.com – to be a YUGE surprise. Given how blue Colorado has become, we’re not sure Caraveo qualifies as a “biggest upset,” but defeating Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer in a close race is still an impressive victory.
It’s no easy task to follow a beloved politician such as retiring Rep. Ed Perlmutter, especially when the district is redrawn in a significant fashion. No matter. Pettersen ran a virtually flawless campaign and cruised to a 15-point victory over Republican Erik Aadland. She’ll be safe here for the next decade.