DENVER — The primary election wrapped up in Colorado Tuesday evening with more than 1.7 million people having cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary.
Before candidates start to pivot to the general election in November, here’s a look at the key takeaways from the primary.
Incumbents held on
Despite facing multiple challengers, both Republican and Democrat incumbents were able to win the primaries.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette beat political newcomer Neal Walia with 84% of the vote. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert beat state Sen. Don Coram with 65% of the vote.
In District 4, Congressman Ken Buck won over Robert Lewis with 74% of the vote. In District 5, Congressman Doug Lamborn staved off three challengers with 48% of the vote.
Incumbents had similar success on the state level. State Sen. Paul Lundeen won in District 9 with 68% of the vote over Lynda Wilson.
State Rep. Mary Bradfield beat primary challenger Karl O’Brian Dent, Sr. with 66% of the vote. State Rep. Colin Larson staved off a challenge from Dede Wagner with 68% of the vote.
Rep. Mandy Lindsay held onto the Democrat slot with 58% of the vote over Gail Pough.
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean beat former House Republicans communications director Austin Hein with 56% of the vote. Finally, Rep. Richard Holtorf won his primary challenge over Jessie Vance with 71% of the vote.
Unaffiliated voters returned more Republican ballots
For the second midterm election in a row, unaffiliated voters were allowed to participate by returning either a Republican or a Democrat ballot, but they could only choose one.
In 2018, roughly 24% of unaffiliated voters participated in the primary. Of those, around 153,000 voted in the Democrat primary, while 93,000 voted in the Republican primary.
This time around, returns show a similar percentage of unaffiliated voters participated in the primary (24%), but many more chose to return Republican ballots rather than Democrat ones.
Numbers released by the Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday afternoon showed more than 168,000 voted in the Republican primary, while more than 123,000 voted in the Democrat primary.
“A lot of the unaffiliated in this election were choosing to participate in Republican primaries, but that's mostly because that's where most of the contests were,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver.
Republicans rejected most of the far-right candidates
One of the big takeaways in the 2022 primary was the losses of far-right candidates, as well as those who criticized the results of the 2020 election.
“Last night was a very good night for the Colorado Republican Party for sanity,” said Republican strategist Ryan Lynch. “They rejected extremism in most places, and I think the candidates that won all kind-of share a common sense conservative message.”
Lynch believes the most electable candidates moved on past the primaries on the Republican side, and he says the party has a strong ticket and strong message moving into November.
“It's important for the Republican Party to come together here. If your chosen candidate didn't win last night, you know, tough break, but it's more important that we unify together and defeat the Democrats in November,” he said.
State Rep. Ron Hanks has been a vocal critic of the American election system over the course of his campaign, even speaking at rallies, attending the January 6 rally in Washington, D.C. and traveling to Arizona twice for election audits. He was defeated by Joe O’Dea but still managed to capture more than 263,000 votes, or 45% overall. Greg Lopez also lost to Heidi Ganahl in the governor’s race by 43,000 votes.
“I think in the case of both Heidi and Joe O’Dea, they can, you know, for lack of a better term, drop the act,” Lynch said. “We can drop the conspiracy theories, and we can focus on what's real and what's actually impacting Coloradans.”
In Congressional District 5, state Rep. Dave Williams, who is one of the most conservative voices in the state legislature and has also criticized the election system, lost by 13,000 votes to Doug Lamborn.
In the 8th Congressional District, state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer beat three other candidates, including Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who has doubted the 2020 election.
One of Colorado’s most well-known election deniers, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, placed third in the Republican Secretary of State’s race with 28% of the vote overall.
Democrat-backed groups were also criticized for pouring large sums of money into television ads and mailers in the Republican primary. They were accused of trying to encourage voters to pick the far-right candidates in the primary, which Democrats considered more beatable in the general election. Based on the election results, though, those ads and mailers appeared to have been unsuccessful.
However, other far-right candidates did win their primary and now move on to the general election, including Boebert and 7th Congressional District newcomer Erik Aadland.
Despite some unsuccessful attempts to do away with the Republican primary earlier this year so that only Republicans could participate in the process, Lynch believes having unaffiliated voters weigh in was a good thing in the end.
Democrat strategist Jason Bane, however, warned that this doesn’t mean the candidates who made it past the primary are necessarily moderates.
“I mean that's only by comparison. I don't think [they’re] moderate in terms of all Coloradans, just moderate in terms of these two people that were running,” Bane said.
No real sense of how Democrats will fare
Unlike the Republican contest, there were very few Democrat contests that featured more than one candidate. As a result, it’s difficult to say how well Democrats really did in the primary or how they will fare in the general election.
“There's going to be probably a slight Republican tilt to the environment overall, but Democrats have some on the ground advantages. So, it's likely to be just a very competitive and very expensive environment,” Masket said.
He believes Democrats will likely turn the 2022 midterms into a referendum on former President Donald Trump, while Republicans will make it a referendum on President Joe Biden.
“Both Trump and Biden are fairly, you know, relatively unpopular national figures right now,” Masket said.
Because of this, Masket predicts that even some races that have little to do with national politics will feel its effects.
Will the "red wave" hit Colorado?
Republicans across the country are banking on a "red wave" in the midterm election to take back either one or possibly both of the chambers of Congress. In recent years, though, Colorado voters have swayed more to the Democrat side in elections. Despite this, the state could be in for some upsets come November.
“Colorado is really not immune from these waves. We've seen that in other recent elections,” Masket said.
Bane disagrees and says the last two election cycles have proven that the state is trending blue.
Another Democrat strategist, Ted Trimpa, paints a very different picture, though that could spell bad news for the Democrats.
“This is going to be like a red wave we haven't seen yet. I think it's going to be bad, and I think the one person that will survive all of this is Governor Polis,” Trimpa said.
For Lynch, he knows any potential Democrat defeats won’t be easy since they are the incumbents and well-funded, but he says a red wave is likely. It all depends, though, on what candidates do over the next five months and how they tailor their message to a wider audience.