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Opportunity in the 8th: Experts say Colorado's new seat in Congress will shake up political landscape

 The U.S. Capitol building at night.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
The U.S. Capitol building at night.

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a series about the recently concluded congressional redistricting process and how it may affect the state's political landscape.

Bob Beauprez knows more than any Coloradan how much pressure – and opportunity – a new congressional seat can create.

The Republican was the first to serve the 7th Congressional District in the Denver suburbs when it was created 20 years ago.

The race was such a nail-biter, he and Democratic challenger Mike Feeley both flew to Capitol Hill for new member orientation.

We went through three different recounts, and you know, several trips back and forth to the courts,” Beauprez recalled last month. “Mike and I had quite a quite a feisty campaign. We certainly didn't leave anything undone.”

Beauprez triumphed by a mere 121 votes. He served two terms and then ran unsuccessfully for governor twice.

His tenure representing a brand-new district could offer a preview of the types of benefits Colorado’s newly created 8th Congressional District might bring next year.

Beauprez says he did not write any major bills during his first months in office. But he says he was still able to quickly grow Colorado’s influence by scoring a seat on the congressional transportation committee.

U.S. House

And me and my office worked very closely with the other six members of the House delegation to make sure that our request for highway improvements, airport improvements, the (Regional Transportation District) improvements, that all of that was taking care of and funded as best we possibly could negotiate,” he said.

He says having another Coloradan able to lobby on Capitol Hill also helped secure a new Veterans Affairs hospital for Aurora.

But what benefits might a growing congressional delegation bring in 2022? Will one more congressional representative from Colorado make any difference in an already chaotic chamber of 435 ambitious people?

Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, says its complicated.

We don't really demand as much attention as, say, California or New York or, you know, some of the other very large states,” Masket said. “But it wasn't that long ago we had just six districts and, you know — Colorado has sort of a growing profile.”

Colorado is one of just four states west of the Mississippi River gaining an additional seat in the next Congress. And experts like Masket agree that there are advantages to that.

Colorado’s representatives will soon serve fewer people, making it easier to respond to constituents who often flood their offices with calls, letters and emails.

And more importantly than the size of the congressional delegation is that it's seen as a competitive state,” Masket said.

And that’s unique. Most new districts this cycle are being drawn by lawmakers using their power to maintain the status quo. That’s the case in Oregon, where their new district leans toward Democrats. In Texas, the new congressional map heavily favors Republican incumbents.

An analysis by Politico shows that 90% of races held in districts drawn by lawmakers over the last decade were not competitive.

But an independent commission drew up Colorado’s eighth district this year. And partly because of that, it’s projected to be a toss-up.

With Democrats controlling Congress by just eight seats heading into next year’s midterms, state party chair Morgan Carroll says the new district could become the biggest political battleground in the nation.

“This seat may well be the majority maker seat,” she says. “It is that close that it could even come down to one seat and it could be this one.”

Carroll is framing the first election in this district as a choice between continuing President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda or reverting back to the Trump years.

I'm not sure we've had a district outside of maybe the 6th Congressional District, even compared to Denver, that has had this much of an opportunity to powerfully direct the fate of the district and therefore the future of the state and frankly, the future of the country,” she said.

Kristi Burton Brown, the state GOP party chair, also sees the new district as a big opportunity.

You are going to see Republican candidates be able to run really good races in the 8th (District) because they can speak to innovation and allowing businesses to start and flourish and prosper,” Brown said.

Both Brown and Carroll predict the campaign for the 8th Congressional District will focus on local issues important to Colorado, including energy policy.

But political scientists, including Seth Masket, are skeptical.

Elections just generally have been getting more nationalized,” he said. “This is a trend we've seen in the last few years where House races, Senate races are increasingly focused on national issues. So this could be something we see happen, where the election won’t really turn so much on issues related to the 8th District in Colorado and will turn on things like critical race theory or guns, or anything that that members of Congress and presidential candidates have been arguing about for the last few years.”

And at his ranch in Jackson County, former congressperson Bob Beauprez says he’ll be watching closely, and others should be as well.

Right now, we're in the middle of a problem because of the supply chain. Crime is a big issue right now,” he said. “Climate is a huge issue. All of those are influenced by public policy politics. So if you care about your quality of life, the quality of life for you and for your family, you certainly should be be paying attention to politics because at the end of the day, it matters greatly.”

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have already announced their campaigns for the new district that covers areas north of Denver up to, and including, Greeley. Primaries for those candidates will take place next June.

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.