A Guide to Colorado’s New Congressional Districts

The Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission (CICRC) has approved their final map plan. After much deliberation and debate, the 12 commissioners (four Democrats, four Independents, and four Republicans) came to a compromise map known as the “Third Staff Plan Coleman amendment”. Though not the first-choice map for most commissioners, 11 out of 12 members of the CICRC voted to approve the map.

At a top-line level, the map produces 4 safely Democratic seats, 1 blue-leaning competitive seat, 1 red-leaning competitive seat, and 2 safely Republican seats. In most years, the resulting elections with these district lines would produce a delegation of 5 Democrats and 3 Republicans. The lines are pictured below:

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As Elections Daily analyzed the first preliminary draft, this is the book-end to the series on congressional redistricting in Colorado. Below is a district-by-district breakdown of the map.

District 1: Denver

This district did not change significantly during the process of drawing maps, as the commission agreed early on to keep Denver intact. The city is almost exactly one district-worth of population, and there are significant communities of interest kept together by preserving this map. Advocates of a more robust Latino-opportunity seat will be disappointed in this draw because many of the northern and western neighborhoods of Denver are home to large Latino populations. That said, Denver is a hub of progressivism and has been safely in Democratic hands for decades.

This 1st preserves the political base of incumbent Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), who will likely hold the seat for as long as she wants. In the event of a DeGette retirement, the primary for the 1st would be a race to watch – being the heart of progressive Democratic power in the state, plenty of talent would chomp at the bit to win the seat. The general election in Denver is safely Democratic; no Republican has cracked 40% of the vote in Denver in nearly 20 years.

2020 Presidential Margin: Biden 80-18

Rating: Safe Democratic

District 2: Boulder/Front Range

District 2 is also not substantially changed from its current formation, anchored by the fiercely liberal cities of Boulder and Fort Collins, and taking in a number of counties in the region known as “Ski Country”, anchored by the upper valleys of the Colorado and Yampa Rivers. The only truly red locality in the 2nd is tiny Jackson County, home to just over 1,000 people. Important issues of land use and federal land management are large concerns in the district – the 2nd is home to Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as the Arapaho, Routt, and Roosevelt National Forests.

The current incumbent in the 2nd is Joe Neguse (D-Lafayette). His seat remains safely blue, and also does not substantially change. The split of Eagle County is maintained, although slightly altered to preserve communities of interest in the western part of the county near the Glenwood Canyon. Given that Larimer County’s red areas of Loveland and Wellington have now been moved into the redder 4th district, Neguse is even safer than he was before the redraw.

2020 Presidential Margin: Biden 69-29

Rating: Safe Democratic

District 3: Western and Southern Colorado

The 3rd district is a potpourri of disparate communities of interest all across the Western Slope and Southern Colorado, and has been configured as such since the 1980s. Many believed that the 3rd district had potential to radically change its shape to emphasize different voices across rural Colorado. As such, the CICRC seriously took into consideration the creation of a “Southern District” – that is, a district that prioritizes the voices of agriculture-heavy southern Colorado, a region that has been historically neglected in state politics. The CICRC voted to keep the counties of Pueblo, Otero, the Raton Basin (Huerfano and Las Animas), as well as the San Luis Valley (Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache) and the San Juan Watershed (Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma), united in one district, termed the “Southern District”. Many configurations of this district were considered, but in the end the map above made it to final approval.

This 3rd is not dissimilar from the current 3rd, in that it spans the Utah border and most of the New Mexico border as well. It is anchored by Grand Junction in the west and Pueblo in the east. Just like the old district, the new map still unites communities of farmers in the south and west, ranchers in the north, as well as oil and gas communities in the northwest of the state. Notably, it removes Routt County (Steamboat Springs) and most of Eagle County (Vail), putting them in the 2nd district. Lake County (Leadville) is also moved into the 7th district. The 3rd then regains the heavily Latino counties of Otero (La Junta) and Las Animas (Trinidad). Thus, this district remains a giant, sprawling district that is a beast to tackle on the campaign trail.

The incumbent in the 3rd is Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Silt). She is notable for her firebrand personality, her vocal support of the Second Amendment, and her staunch far-right brand of conservatism. In Democratic circles, she is more notable as an instigator of the January 6 insurrection attempt at the Capitol in the wake of President Biden’s electoral certification. Currently, Boebert’s district is right-leaning but not overwhelmingly so; out of the freshman crop of far-right lawmakers, Boebert is by far the most endangered. Democrats had hoped the CICRC would endanger Boebert significantly with a redraw, but in fact her position is strengthened here. The 3rd is now made two points redder by the removal of Routt, Eagle, and Lake, and the political base of Boebert’s strongest Democratic challenger, State Sen. Kerry Donovan, is placed into the 2nd district. The strongest Democratic hope remaining is now State Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara in Conejos County.

This district has a high potential for Democrats – they routinely achieve 46% to 47% of the vote in this part of Colorado, and Republicans have been capped at 52% of the vote or so presidentially since George W. Bush’s stellar performance in 2004. Even still, the remaining four points to get to 50 are an extremely tough climb, particularly when Mesa County (Grand Junction) nets Republicans upwards of 20,000 votes. In a red year, this seat is likely non-competitive; however Western Colorado has broadly been getting more Democratic over the past 20 years. Joe Biden matched or outperformed Obama’s historical performance with working-class whites in many dark-red counties here, and Democrats are growing a presence in Grand Junction, the North Fork Valley, and the Roaring Fork Valley areas.

The last Democrats to hold the seat, Rep. John Salazar and Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (who would later defect to the Republicans as Senator), had moderate-to-conservative voting records with a maverick independent streak. Democrats would do well to nominate candidates with solid brands and wide appeal here, especially to the large base of rural Hispanos in the southern portion of the district. For now, though, Boebert is favored.

2020 Presidential Margin: Trump 53-45

Rating: Likely Republican

District 4: Loveland, Douglas, and the Plains

The 4th is now anchored in Douglas County and parts of Larimer and Weld Counties. These two regions are fused together by a gargantuan blood-red swath of land: the Eastern Plains. The region has seen a transformation in the past decade as steady suburbanization and growth have shaken up the political landscape in Weld and Douglas Counties. As a result, much of Weld County, which was almost entirely previously in the 4th district, will be transferred to the newly created 8th district. The 4th creeps into the eastern stretches of El Paso County as well, taking in a piece of the exploding Colorado Springs metropolitan area. Most of the Hispano areas that were in the 4th in the preliminary draw have been moved into the 3rd, leaving the 4th an extremely conservative seat.

The current incumbent in the 4th district is Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley). Greeley is interestingly moved into the 8th district here, so Buck would technically be drawn out of his district. The likeliest scenario is that Buck would simply move to a different part of the 4th, or stay put in Greeley. Buck got his start in politics as District Attorney of Weld County, so he has a strong connection to the voters county-wide. Additionally, he has represented the 4th district since 2015. So even staying put in Greeley, Buck’s political base is preserved – and since there is no requirement for congressmen to live in specific districts, he is likely not impacted by the redistricting.

The leftward lurch of Douglas County provides some ballast to Democratic efforts, who cracked 40% in this district. The counterbalance to it is that the portions of Larimer added, Loveland and Wellington, are staunchly red localities. Combined with the plains counties, eastern El Paso, and the remaining blood-red portion of Weld, this district is simply not winnable for a Democrat in its current form. The last time a Democrat represented the plains was 2008 when Betsy Markey ran a conservative campaign against controversial social conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Markey was aided by the inclusion of deep-blue Fort Collins in the 4th. With Fort Collins in the 2nd, there is not a path to a Democratic victory here.

2020 Margin: Trump 58-40

Rating: Safe Republican

District 5: Colorado Springs

The 5th has been anchored by Colorado Springs since its creation and used to be one of the most conservative areas in the state. That has been changing, however, as the county has been moving left for some time and rocketed left in the age of Trump. In 2020, the city of Colorado Springs only voted for Trump by three points, a far cry from the crimson margins it gave to prior Republicans. A high college-educated population, a large military presence, and growing urbanization have made the Springs a more appealing Democratic target. Due to the population growth, the new 5th is entirely contained within El Paso County for the first time.

The incumbent in the 5th is Doug Lamborn, who has never truly faced a competitive re-election. His Democratic opponents have been inching up past the 40% mark though, a sign of where the burgeoning partisan realignment will take Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is a swingy city now, but the rest of the county is still very Republican – areas like Fountain and Cimarron Hills will pad the GOP margins for some time. In a red year, this seat is probably off the table, but this seat would approach competitiveness in a good Democratic year.

2020 Margin: 53-43 Trump

Rating: Likely Republican

District 6: Aurora-Centennial

The 6th is kept as a suburban district based in Arapahoe County around the cities of Aurora and Centennial. This area used to split its tickets between presidential Democrats and more inoffensive conservative Republicans. Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman represented the area in Congress until the blue wave of 2018 finally ended his career in DC. Now though, most of the state legislative seats in the area have flipped to Democrats, and the blue wave has reached northern Douglas County, mostly taking Arapahoe County off the map for the GOP. The new 6th here removes the arm around the Denver International Airport, as that territory was reincorporated into the new 8th district.

The incumbent in the 6th is Rep. Jason Crow – formerly of Aurora but now based out of Centennial, in Arapahoe County. A pragmatic liberal, he is much more of a work-horse than a show-horse and he was easily re-elected. In the new 6th, Biden is pushing 60% of the vote, meaning that any chances of Republicans flipping back their old strongholds are eliminated. Crow is likely to survive here as long as he wants.

2020 Margin: Biden 60-37

Rating: Safe Democratic

District 7: JeffCo and Upper Arkansas Valley

The 7th is the most radically altered district on the map. Due to the 5th contracting to an El Paso-only seat, the counties of Park, Teller, Fremont, and Chaffee had to be placed somewhere. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were already full, so the 7th was the next best option. The resulting district is a bizarre amalgamation of suburban and rural, of deep blue and dark red. In the north, Jefferson County and the city of Broomfield, home to most of the district’s population, keeps the district in the Democratic column. Towards the south and west, the upper course of the Arkansas River is included in the 7th, from Lake County (Leadville) to Fremont County (Cañon City). Cañon City has not been represented by a congressional Democrat in decades, and these decisions of the map are sure to cause a stir. Colorado High School Democrats chair Spencer Wilcox, a Jefferson County native, said “Leadville Democrats have a lot of very different issues to face than Lakewood Democrats”.

The new 7th is home to Ed Perlmutter, Democrat from Golden in Jefferson County. The northern portions of the district have become so Democratic that even with the addition of the blood-red counties in the south, Biden still won the 17th by 14 points. Perlmutter is a very strong incumbent who has been in Colorado politics for a long time – his only challenge will be building a brand in the non-metropolitan counties outside of Jefferson and Broomfield. This district will remain safely Democratic.

2020 Margin: Biden 56-42

Rating: Safe Democratic

District 8: Thornton to Greeley

The 8th is the newest addition to Colorado’s set of districts. Based in the fast-growing corridor of US Highway 85, it was drawn to be a seat that has a special opportunity for Latinos in the area to elect a candidate of their choice. With a citizen voting-age population that is 35% Hispanic, this is the best opportunity for Democratic-leaning Colorado Latinos to elect a preferred candidate in a while. Ken Buck is technically drawn into this seat, as it takes in the city of Greeley due to its rapidly growing Latino population, but as discussed before it is likeliest that he runs in the 4th district. This 8th district sits at a number of political cross-currents that make it a fascinating place to look at.

On a pure partisanship level, the 8th is the closest this map comes to a tossup. Anchored by blue Adams County in the south and red Weld County in the north, this seat voted for Biden by five points after narrowly backing Trump in 2016; it voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Jared Polis won the seat narrowly en route to his 2018 gubernatorial victory but at the same time, Democratic AG Phil Weiser lost the seat by around 4,000 votes. Considering that the Republican bench in Adams and Weld is much stronger than the Biden partisanship numbers would indicate, this seat is by no means out of contention for a GOP win. Add in the fact that this seat has in fact not lurched into the Democratic column like the 6th and 7th districts have, and it is clear that Democrats will put up a lot of money to ensure that this district yields a victory for Team Blue.

The new seat is home to the last suburban Republican from the inner Denver metropolitan area in the state legislature, State Sen. Kevin Priola. Priola is a moderate conservative who has shown an independent streak on some important issues like immigration and education. His Senate district is a Biden-won seat that he narrowly held onto in 2020, on account of his strong personal brand. Numerous Democrats that Elections Daily has spoken to explained that Priola would be a very strong candidate and is very well-liked, even among Democrats. Another potential candidate for the Republican side is State Sen. John Cooke from Weld County. He has been talked about as a candidate for higher office but is definitely more conservative than Priola. The worst-case scenario for Republicans would be to nominate a far-right candidate like Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams. On the Democratic side, the front-runner for the nomination is State Rep. Yadira Caraveo. A progressive advocate for her Thornton-based 31st district, she has strong ties to the increasingly large Mexican-American community, which may prove crucial in a close race.

A Caraveo vs. Priola race would be a marquee matchup, and would certainly be a race that garnered millions of dollars in spending. This new 8th district is the type of seat that Republicans will need to win to take back the House. To start the 2022 cycle, it would make sense to prognosticate the new 8th district as Leans Democratic, but that rating could change depending on the course of the campaign cycle. Adams County hasn’t seen the same hard-left shifts that other areas in the Denver metro have, and Weld County is a large Republican base and should not be counted out.

2020 Margin: Biden 51-46

Rating: Leans Democratic

Conclusion

This new commission-drawn map is a breakthrough attempt at empowering Colorado’s citizens to draw districts that reflect their values and communities of interest. There are many things to support, and many to not support. The 1st and 8th are excellent representations of communities of interest, for example. The 5th contains the overwhelming majority of the Colorado Springs metropolitan area.

As a counter, the 7th district is a bizarre afterthought made possible by the CICRC drawing other districts without consideration for how the interior of the state would be affected. Furthermore, the entrenchment of Republican power in the 3rd is, as some may argue, not reflective of the long-standing partisan trends in western and southern Colorado. A spokeswoman for the La Plata County Democratic Party pointedly declared that “our official position is that this map sucks”. Supporters of Kerry Donovan cannot be happy at the map either, as her campaign to unseat Boebert is significantly weakened. With regards to the 4th district, Douglas County, Weld County, and the Eastern Plains all have distinctly different interests and values and for no reason other than pure geography they are lumped together.

In a red-leaning year, this map could yield 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats, a split much more Republican than the baseline partisanship of the state, which has rocketed left post-Trump. In most years though, this would yield a 5-3 split in favor of Democrats. Down the line, if Republican-leaning metropolitan areas across the state like Grand Junction and Colorado Springs continue to swing further left, the 3rd and 5th districts genuinely could become competitive. But for now, the lines are drawn, and the candidates are going to reassess their campaigns.

Armin Thomas is a recent graduate of Yale University specializing in statistics. His interests include politics, elections, music, and the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. His Twitter is @thomas_armin and he can be reached at [email protected]

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