Senate race, presidency top Colorado election; local ballot questions seek tax hikes

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Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hicknelooper during a televised debate Oct. 10. SCREEN GRAB FROM THE DENVER CHANNEL BROADCAST

DENVER  | Colorado voters are deciding if Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a close supporter of President Donald Trump, gets a second term in Tuesday’s general election. Gardner’s race against former Gov. John Hickenlooper tops a state electoral slate that includes a close race to replace GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in the vast 3rd Congressional District and ballot initiatives on abortion, wolf reintroduction, paid family leave and the future of Colorado’s electoral votes.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. All mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m.

A look at key races:

U.S. PRESIDENT

For years, Colorado was considered a battleground state in presidential elections. But a fast-growing influx of college-educated and affluent residents has pushed the state toward Democrats, who have won presidential elections here since 2008. In 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 5 percentage points. In 2018, Democrats solidified control of the statehouse and won all statewide offices.

President Trump’s most recent visit to the state was in February. Joe Biden’s campaign has featured virtual events. Both campaigns reserved their spending for battleground states.

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U.S. SENATE

Colorado has become reliably Democratic under Trump, and for that reason, Cory Gardner is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators seeking reelection as Democrats try to flip the U.S. Senate. Trump embraced Gardner as behind him “100%” in February — an endorsement seized by Democrat John Hickenlooper in his bid to replace Gardner.

Gardner recently has sought to distance himself from Trump, focusing instead on his sponsorship of a wildlands protection bill, now law, and two ethics law violations by Hickenlooper, a popular former two-term governor and Denver mayor. Hickenlooper zeroed in on Gardner’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Gardner’s vote for Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

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U.S. HOUSE

A campaign mirroring this year’s presidential contest is playing out in the state’s largest congressional district.

Republican Lauren Boebert, a restaurant owner and newcomer to politics, has channeled Trump on social media, bashing Biden and Democrats “socialist” agenda as much as she is attacking her Democratic opponent, former state lawmaker Diane Mitsch Bush.

The winner succeeds five-term GOP Rep. Scott Tipton, upset by Boebert in the party’s June primary. Democrats haven’t held the 3rd District since Tipton defeated Rep. John Salazar in 2010.

Mitsch Bush stressed her bipartisan record in the statehouse and emphasized an intimate familiarity on other key issues affecting Colorado’s Western Slope, including health care, water, energy and management of public lands.

In Aurora, Democrat Jason Crow is seeking a second term to his 6th Congressional District seat. He’s opposed by Republic Steve House, former Colorado Republican Party chairperson.

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ABORTION, WOLVES AND OTHER BALLOT QUESTIONS

Colorado was the first state to decriminalize abortion, in 1967 — six years before Roe v. Wade. Several initiatives to ban or limit abortion have failed; voters on Tuesday will decide whether to ban abortion during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Voters also will decide whether the state should reintroduce gray wolves on the Western Slope after their successful reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park 25 years ago. Supporters say it’s the first time that voters, rather than government scientists, will choose whether to reintroduce the wolf, which once ranged across most of the U.S.

Colorado voters have a chance to repeal a law that would commit the state’s presidential electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Proposition 113 marks the first time that a state that has joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will have the move challenged at the ballot box. Gov. Jared Polis signed the Democrat-sponsored legislation into law in March 2019. Republicans quickly got the repeal initiative on the ballot. The compact would take effect if states with a collective 270 electoral votes — the number needed to win the presidency — agree to join.

Also on the ballot: Colorado voters will decide whether to create a state program mandating paid family and medical leave for workers across all industries and income levels. Supporters say the coronavirus pandemic requires such a program; opponents say the coronavirus pandemic makes it unaffordable.

In Aurora, two local ballot questions vie for attention. Cherry Creek schools district is asking voters to raise property taxes for ballot proposals 4A and 4B. Facing a projected $60 million budget shortfall over the next two years, Cherry Creek is asking voters to approve a mill levy and bond increase this fall that would bring in a combined $185 million for the district. Measure 4A, a mill levy override, would increase operating revenue by $35 million and bond measure 4B would raise $150 million to fund deferred maintenance and district projects. The measure would cost homeowners $1.65 a month in new taxes per $100,000 of property value. Proponents say the net property tax increase is relatively low for the size of the package because the district would also be retiring older debt.

In Adams County, ballot proposal 1A seeks voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund open space projects.

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LEGISLATURE

Democrats are expected to hold on to their large majority in the state House and hope to expand a slim three-seat majority in the 35-seat state Senate.

A handful of Aurora state House and Senate races are expected to produce few surprises for Democrat incumbents. An exceptional race in the southeast metro area is in Senate District 27 where the battle for an open seat between Republican Suzanne Staiert and Democrat Chris Kolker has drawn statewide attention and dollars.

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POLICE READY

Denver is setting up a downtown police command post as a precaution for election-related unrest.