CongressElection 2018FeaturedNews

PRIMARY 2018: DeGette, Crow, Neguse win congressional primaries

Authors: Ernest Luning, Mark Harden - June 26, 2018 - Updated: June 27, 2018

Joe Neguse, executive director of the state Department of Regulatory Agencies and a former CU regent, addresses Colorado Democrats at the party's biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017. On Tuesday, June 13, 2017, he declared he's running for Congress in the 2nd District. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Democratic congressional candidate Joe Neguse, then-executive director of the state Department of Regulatory Agencies and a former CU regent, addresses Democrats at the party’s biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

With decisive votes, Coloradans set the table in the June primary that ended Tuesday for seven fall congressional elections, settling most key races not long after voting ended by wide margins.

Less than an hour after the 7 p.m. voting deadline, three of the state’s most interesting congressional races were already decided, and a fourth was wrapped up a short time later.

Two incumbents — Denver Democrat Diana DeGette of the 1st Congressional District and Colorado Springs Republican Doug Lamborn of the 5th — were quickly declared the winners of their primaries. And Democratic newcomer Jason Crow advanced in the suburban 6th District.

Not long after than, Boulder Democrat Joe Neguse was deemed the victor in his party’s race to succeed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis as the 2nd Congressional District’s representative.

And by evening’s end, Democrats Diane Mitsch Bush in the 3rd Congressional District and Karen McCormick in the 4th District both won their primaries in districts being defended by Republican incumbents.

In DeGette’s and Neguse’s case, the primary wins all but assure victory in November in their heavily Democratic districts.

Although the crowded primaries for governor hogged the spotlight in Colorado’s 2018 midterm election, voters also picked nominees for Congress in contested races in all but one of the state’s seven congressional districts.

In most of the congressional contests, it was a battle between a party’s establishment and its more aggressive wings — including primaries pitting the senior members of the state’s Democratic and Republican delegations against upstart challengers.

DeGette, first elected in 1996 and seeking her 12th term representing the 1st Congressional District, faced her toughest opponent in decades in Saira Rao.

Four Republicans tried to deny Lamborn a seventh term representing the Colorado Springs-based 5th Congressional District, including El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, state Sen. Owen Hill, retired Texas judge Bill Rhea and former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens.

Possibly the hardest-fought and most closely watched primary determined which Democrat will run against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman — a five-term Aurora Republican who hasn’t been defeated in the three decades he’s held elected office — in the nearly evenly divided, Aurora-based 6th Congressional District.

There, Crow, an attorney and Army Ranger combat veteran, ran with the backing of the Democratic Party’s establishment, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and most of the state party’s VIPs,  against the more aggressively progressive Levi Tillemann, an author and clean energy expert and the grandson of Nancy Dick, the state’s first woman lieutenant governor.

Tillimann made a splash in the race by posting a video showing himself being pepper-sprayed in the face to make a point about improving school safety without guns.

Crow swiftly got a taste of what he faces in the fall via a statement by Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg:

“Jason Crow is a white collar defense lawyer with a laundry list of shady criminal clients and a longer list of left-wing special interest financial backers that bought him the Democratic primary. But still, congratulations to Jason Crow and Nancy Pelosi on defeating the guy who sprayed mace in his own face. Mike Coffman and his army of supporters are ready for the next round.”

The state’s other congressional primaries featured Democrats vying for the nomination in a range of districts, from the safely Democratic and safely Republican to a seat that has changed hands between parties and could be a battleground this year.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Neguse, a former University of Colorado regent, an attorney and the Democrats’ nominee for secretary of state in 2014, ran against Mark Williams, an Air Force fighter pilot veteran, entrepreneur and former chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party.

As the primary winner, Neguse will likely be headed to Congress, as the Boulder- and Larimer-County based district hasn’t elected a Republican in nearly five decades. (First-time candidate Peter Yu is the GOP nominee in the district.)

If he wins in the fall, Neguse, the son of Eritrean refugees, would be the first African-American elected to Congress from Colorado.

McCormick will try to deny U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Greeley Republican, a third term in the heavily Republican 4th Congressional District, which covers the Eastern Plains, including Greeley and much of Douglas County. She defeated fellow Democrat Chase Kohne of Castle Rock; both are political newcomers and veterinarians.

And U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican, will face former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, in the fall, in the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, which covers most of the Western Slope, the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County.

Mitsch Bush defeated Carbondale rancher and water attorney Karl Hanlon, and Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner and the Green Party’s 2016 nominee for the U.S. Senate.

A poll conducted by a progressive group found Tipton could be vulnerable to a Democratic challenger this year, particularly because health care costs in the district — already among the highest in the country — could soar even further in the wake of Tipton’s votes to undo elements of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. National Democrats have pegged the seat among its second tier of targeted seats.

The suburban 7th Congressional District was the only one in the state without a primary. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat who briefly ran for governor last summer, will be attempting to win a seventh term against Republican challenger Mark Barrington for the Jefferson and Adams County-based seat in November.

Several of Colorado’s congressional primaries appear to be replaying the 2016 presidential primaries, with the Democrats again deciding between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the party, and Republicans arguing again about their support for Donald Trump.

In the 1st CD, Rao’s bid to unseat DeGette also exemplified Democratic primaries across the country, where younger women, often black or brown — Rao’s parents emigrated from India in the 1960s — are trying to show entrenched incumbents the door.

Rao shot to prominence late last year when she wrote a widely shared article about “breaking up” with the Democratic Party, which she argued was in thrall to corporate masters, paying lip service to women of color and other marginalized populations. She charged DeGette has gotten comfortable in her decades in office and hasn’t championed progressive causes the way the district’s voters are demanding.

DeGette, her party’s chief deputy whip, pushed back hard, arguing that her experience and seniority mean the district’s voters will have a powerful voice in Congress if Democrats win back the gavel in the House.

Republican Casper Stockham is running for the Denver-based seat for the second time.

The 6th District is again shaping up to be the most expensive congressional race in the state — Democrats have poured resources into unsuccessful attempts to unseat Coffman for the past three elections. Democrat Crow prevailed in the first primary the party has had since the seat was created in the early 1980s.

The district is one of two dozen nationwide won by Clinton but represented by Republicans, and the Democrats’ path to the majority in the House runs right through it.

Crow announced his run more than a year ago and amassed cash and prominent endorsements, but he had to spend heavily — including nearly $250,000 on TV ads this month — to fend off Tillemann, who accused Crow of reciting bland talking points while ducking debates.

Both Democrats moved into the district last year and were mounting their first runs for office.

Crow, the first combat veteran to challenge Coffman — an Army and Marine Corps veteran — since the seat was redrawn before the 2012 election, is part of a crop of top Democratic recruits in the 70 districts the party is targeting for the fall election.

Tillemann won national attention earlier this year when he he released a secretly recorded conversation with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, who urged him to step aside because party leaders and the state’s congressional delegation had decided Crow had the best chance to unseat Coffman. He wound up with more national exposure earlier this month after he pepper-sprayed himself in a video publicizing a proposal to protect against school shootings.

In the 5th District Lamborn faced his fifth GOP primary in six runs for re-election since he won the seat in 2006 — when he emerged from a bitter, six-way primary.

Glenn, the GOP nominee for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat two years ago, and Hill have both slammed Lamborn as ineffectual and pledged to take better advantage of the bully pulpit afforded by one of the most conservative districts in the country.

But Lamborn pointed to his consistent top ranking on conservative scorecards and his success bringing a veterans cemetery to the region, as well as increased troop levels at the district’s military bases and long-sought funding for transportation needs, including a $65 million federal grant to help pay for widening Interstate 25 announced earlier this month.

Rhea, for his part, ran an almost gentle campaign against the direction the GOP has taken since Trump took over, while Stevens, a small businessman, talked about his decades of experience in various civic roles.

The fight for the nomination turned nasty early on, when supporters of Hill filed a lawsuit challenging Lamborn’s nominating petitions, briefly knocking him from the ballot until a federal judge struck down a Colorado law and restored the incumbent.

Since then, the district’s Republican voters have been treated to Lamborn’s allegations that Hill and Glenn didn’t support Trump in the 2016 election — Glenn called on Trump to drop out after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, and Hill didn’t add his name to a list of legislators endorsing Trump. Late in the race, Hill attacked Lamborn and Glenn as “swamp creatures,” dredging up old charges in a series of TV ads and mailers.

In the primary’s only publicly available poll, Lamborn held a 10-point lead over Glenn, and the other candidates trailed, though a big share of voters were still undecided at the time.

Democrat Stephany Rose Spaulding is her party’s nominee for the 5th District seat.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.