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Colo. House Race Goes Down to Wire

August 11, 2002

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DENVER (AP) _ A closely watched House race is coming down to the wire as four Republicans, including the lieutenant governor, head into Tuesday’s primary in Colorado’s new congressional district.

The state has several contested Democratic congressional races, as well, but with no statewide races among the Democrats to generate interest and the Senate race already set, voter turnout is estimated at just 20 percent, state elections director Bill Compton said.

The national major political parties are poised to throw their support to the winners in the new 7th Congressional District as they jockey for control of the U.S. House and the Senate, pollster Floyd Ciruli said. Democrats hope for a net gain of six seats to regain control of the House.

The new district’s boundaries were set by a judge after lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on a new congressional district map, made necessary when population growth documented in the 2000 census gave the state an additional House seat.

Centered in Adams, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties in the metropolitan Denver area, the new district is 32.75 percent Republican, 32.8 percent Democrat and 34.45 percent unaffiliated registered voters.

Four candidates are seeking the GOP nod: Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, former state Sen. Sam Zakhem, former Republican Party Chairman Bob Beauprez and Rick O’Donnell, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Initiatives.

Democratic contenders are Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas and former state Sen. Mike Feeley.

There have been no recent polls for the primary contests.

During a televised debate, O’Donnell jabbed at his three opponents, saying he was the only one who has not had legal or ethical problems.

Beauprez has been criticized for lawsuits related to his banking business and Zakhem was indicted and acquitted of charges he failed to pay income tax and did not register as lobbyist for the Kuwaiti government before the Gulf War. Rogers was criticized by state auditors for his office spending.

Rogers dismissed the criticism and urged party unity. ``Nobody is perfect. Don’t tear somebody else down to build yourself up,″ he said.

Democrats believe redistricting has left Republicans vulnerable in the 4th District, where GOP Rep. Bob Schaffer is stepping down to honor a term-limit pledge. ``They lost a lot of the farm areas that were very conservative,″ Ciruli said.

The winner of that GOP primary, between state Sen. Marilyn Musgrave and attorney Jeff Bedingfield, will face state Senate President Stan Matsunaka in the general election.

Republicans also have primaries in the 2nd District, between Boulder County treasurer Sandy Hume and businessman Bob Vehar. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Mark Udall.

Democrats have a rare primary for an incumbent, Rep. Diana DeGette, who faces Denver City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez in the heavily Democratic 1st District. The winner will face State Sen. Ken Chlouber, considered to be the district’s first serious Republican challenger in years.

Colorado’s Senate race matchup for the November general election has already been decided, with former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, a Democrat, challenging incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican. Neither candidate is challenged within his party.

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