Redistricting history and process
As a smaller, but rapidly-growing state, Colorado has seen its congressional districts increase over the last few decades. It gained a 6th congressional district following the 1980 Census and 7th district following the 2000 Census. Following the 2020 Census, the state gained its 8th district.
Although Colorado used to assign redistricting authority to the legislature, it now uses an independent redistricting commission. This commission was approved by voters in 2018 with support by both parties. However, some state Democrats regret having given up redistricting authority, as it deprived them of the ability to gerrymander the state.
The 12-member independent commission is comprised of four Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. In order to be approved, maps must receive at least eight votes, and two of those must come from the unaffiliated group.
The map the independent commission produced this cycle was approved by an 11-1 vote. It has four Democratic-leaning districts (1, 2, 6, 7), three Republican-leaning districts (3, 4, 5), and one tossup district (8). Democratic activists lobbied for a map that would have produced a 6-2 split and were outraged at the map that passed; however, the state Supreme Court approved the districts, setting them in stone for the decade. On balance, the map is competitive, with Republicans having a solid chance at four seats but virtually no shot at a majority.
Colorado is a predominantly White state, although it has a fairly large Hispanic population. This population is somewhat dispersed throughout the state, but is most broadly concentrated in three areas: a cluster in southern Adams County and northeast Denver (CO-08), a cluster in southwest Denver (CO-01), and a final cluster in the state’s south, centered around Hispano-heavy rural counties and Pueblo County (CO-03).
Colorado does not have a large Black or Asian population; both groups have their largest share in the suburban 6th district, based around Aurora and the southern Denver suburbs. Colorado’s small Native American population is largest in the rural 3rd district, which includes the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Indian reservations.
Interestingly, Colorado politics somewhat defy racial categorization. The state’s whitest district – the Boulder-based 2nd – is also its second-most Democratic, while the 8th district, the state’s most competitive, is the most diverse.
|District||Bachelor’s or higher||Rank (of 435)||Non-college white||Rank (of 435)|
Colorado’s educational attainment is broadly above-average, with all but two of its congressional districts ranking in the top quartile. Both the Denver-based 1st district and Boulder-based 2nd district rank in the top 30 most educated seats in the country, and three more (CO-04, CO-06, and CO-07) rank in the top 100. Non-college educated whites make up a fairly small portion of the electorate overall, with only a handful of districts even reaching into the second quartile.
The 4th is an interesting case. While it is predominantly rural geographically, just under half its population lies in affluent Douglas County, which has a high level of college attainment. The two least-attained districts are the rural 3rd district and the diverse 8th, which encompasses Hispanic-heavy areas of Adams County along with predominantly White Weld County. However, the large number of affluent and highly-educated ski country counties in the 3rd mean that its college attainment rate is only barely below the national average.
Long a Republican stronghold at the presidential level, Colorado has since transitioned over the last several decades into a firmly Democratic state at virtually all levels of government. The last Republican Governor, Bill Owens, was elected in 2002; the legislature has been under Democratic control for all but six years since 2004. Republicans last won statewide races in 2014, when they narrowly won a Senate contest as well as three executive offices. No Republican has carried the state at the presidential level since 2004, and Joe Biden’s 2020 victory saw the widest margin for a Democrat since 1964.
At the Congressional level, however, Colorado has remained competitive. Republicans held a majority of seats for all but four years from 2000 to 2018, in part due to their ability to hold the Democratic-leaning 6th district (an Obama+5, Clinton+9 seat). However, they lost the 6th in 2018 decisively, turning a 4-3 Republican majority into a 4-3 Democratic one. The 6th has now become entirely out of play for Republicans, leaving the state with a single highly competitive district – the Biden+4 8th district. This district has unusually defied trends; Obama won it in 2008 and 2012, Trump won it in 2016, and Biden won it in 2020. It hasn’t swung left like the rest of the state, in other words, but the fact it takes in a large, Hispanic chunk of heavily-Democratic Adams County means it could well trend to the left in the future.
One seat which has remained in play is the 3rd, which encompasses the rural Western Slope, ski country, and the Hispano-heavy areas near Pueblo. Conservative Democrat John Salazar held the seat from 2005 to 2010, and while Republicans have held the district in every election since, it has become increasingly competitive. This is due to two factors: first, the growth of liberal ski country counties, and second, due to the controversial nature of the incumbent Republican, Lauren Boebert.
2022 election results
|1||Diana DeGette (D)||80.3%||17.5%||D+62.8%|
|2||Joe Neguse (D)||70.0%||28.0%||D+42%|
|3||Lauren Boebert (R)||49.9%||50.1%||R+0.2%|
|4||Ken Buck (R)||36.6%||60.9%||R+24.3%|
|5||Doug Lamborn (R)||40.3%||56.0%||R+15.7%|
|6||Jason Crow (D)||60.6%||37.4%||D+23.2%|
In a slight upset, Democrats managed to expand their 4-3 advantage to a 5-3 one in the 2022 midterms. In addition to the weaker-than-expected environment for Republicans, Colorado actually saw somewhat of a blue wave; Governor Jared Polis and Senator Michael Bennet won re-election by decisive margins. Their strong performances likely helped downballot Democrats. Democrats actually overperformed their 2020 margins in several Democratic-leaning seats, including the Democratic strongholds of CO-01 (Denver) and CO-02 (Boulder). In the 7th district, Democratic Brittany Pettersen ran just about even with Biden’s performance, a substantial failure for a seat that was seen as potentially competitive.
In the 8th district, Democrat Yadira Caraveo secured a narrow win over Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer. This was somewhat of an upset; every major outlet that predicted a result in the race, including Elections Daily, predicted a Kirkmeyer win. At Biden+4.5, this seat was generally seen as a fairly strong bellwether district for the national environment; the fact that the moderate Kirkmeyer was unable to flip it is a bad sign for Republicans going forward.
However, CO-08 wasn’t the most surprising result; that honor goes to the 3rd district. Boebert, a controversial incumbent with a history of inflammatory remarks and a hard-right record in Congress, only won this Trump+8.2 seat by 546 votes. Boebert is loathed in the district’s liberal ski county counties, which saw sky-high turnout in both the primary and general elections. Given this dramatic underperformance, and Boebert’s refusal to pivot away from the fringe right, CO-03 will be a seat to watch in 2024.
- CO-01: Diana DeGette (D-Denver)
- CO-02: Joe Neguse (D-Lafayette)
- CO-03: Lauren Boebert (R-Silt)
- CO-04: Ken Buck (R-Windsor)
- CO-05: Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs)
- CO-06: Jason Crow (D-Aurora)
- CO-07: Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood)
- CO-08: Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton)