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Can Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District make America competitive again?

While many elections in the nation become increasingly polarized, the Centennial State's newly drawn 8th Congressional District has equal chances of going to a Republican or Democrat.

(CN) — The fate of Colorado’s newly drawn 8th Congressional District lies in the hands of its majority party: the unaffiliated.

“We do have to reach a majority of unaffiliated voters and turn out the Republican base in order to win elections in Colorado,” said Kristi Burton Brown, state GOP chairwoman.

Four of the Centennial State’s congressional seats are currently occupied by Democrats and three by Republicans. The state gained its eighth congressional district after the 2020 Census revealed the state grew by about 800,000 people over the last decade. An independent redistricting commission drew competitive boundaries along the Front Range where the population has swelled.

Of recent active voters in the region, 28% were Democrat, 25% Republican and 44% unaffiliated.

While Boulder is sure to go to a Democrat and Mesa County to a Republican, District 8 has equal chances of choosing either party. Early in the primary stage, where candidates often play to their base, candidates from the 8th District are conscientious that astute independent and unaffiliated voters are already tuning in.

Kitchen table issues like the rising cost of living and job security are getting more play than those that rile up party bases like the right’s belief in 2020 election fraud or the left’s call to ban fracking.

Some Republicans hope their party sticks to this plan.

“I'm only concerned about one issue as someone who believes in limited government. My issue is that Republicans are going to screw it up again and let this incredible opportunity for a conservative wave to crash over America and Colorado to somehow get screwed up,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Denver.

Democrats nationwide face a challenging campaign season because the president’s party tends to lose seats in midterms. 

Caldara worries that if Republican candidates try to win the primary by catering to extremes, they will lose in the general election.

“It makes sense how the state has turned so very blue, almost California blue, while most people still want limited government in the state,” Caldara said. “The reason is that Republicans often put up candidates that are simply unelectable in the general election.”

For a deeper look at the issues surrounding the 2022 midterm elections nationally, listen to "The Road To November," the latest episode of Courthouse News' podcast Sidebar:

In recent years Democrats — from the statehouse to Governor Jared Polis — vowed to decrease Colorado’s reliance on oil and invest in renewable energy. This meant overhauling oil and gas regulations, allowing local governments to opt out of fracking, holding operators accountable for plugging abandoned wells and scrutinizing new permits.

Energy is an important issue for the new district. In addition to Adams and Larimer counties, it includes Weld County, which produces 86% of the state’s crude oil and 45% of its natural gas. 

“The key button for me is energy independence,” said Toby Williams, a longtime Republican supporting Thornton Mayor Jan Kuhlmann's congressional campaign. Even while in office, Kuhlmann remains a petroleum engineer by day.

“I'm not even in the industry, but I recognize the value because energy independence is going to help keep the cost of living down, it's going to keep our infrastructure rolling, it's going to keep our transportation and supply chains going,” Williams said.

On the ballot, Kuhlmann is likely to face state Senator Barb Kirkmeyer, who has a track record of protecting the oil and gas industry in the Legislature. Republican candidates also include grassroots activist Jewels Gray and former Green Beret Tyler Allcorn, who both look to loosen regulations.

"We shouldn't be sacrificing the oil and gas industry to pursue these green energy initiatives considering they do not have a large enough energy share within our country to be able to supplant the oil and gas industry," Allcorn said.

While the Republican cohort argues American energy independence means supporting more oil and gas development, Democrats see a pathway to job creation in expanding the country’s energy portfolio.

Megan Burns, the communications and digital director for the Colorado Democratic Party, said voters don’t have to choose the economy over the environment.

“This is an interesting comms and marketing tactic from the GOP, that they often say it is one or the other, when there's a lot of industries that do both,” Burns said. “The environment is also a top topic for most Coloradans, so I would be interested to see if a candidate does pull ahead with promising cleaner air.”

One Democratic candidate for the 8th District, Charles “Chaz” Tedesco, said the answer is in expanding the country’s energy portfolio.

“We're going to need the energy, but we also need to be very careful and very cognizant of how we set the stage to move into these new energies,” said Tedesco, a current Adams County commissioner. “The problem right now is our infrastructure does not support renewable energy in the manner we want it to support.”

He added: “Anytime we can bring in more options for energy, the better that is for our economy, and it brings competitiveness to the industry. Whether it's the hydrogen or geothermal, whether it's the wind or solar, when you have more than one resource to rely upon, it creates a platform of energy independence.”

A Navy veteran and former president of a steel workers union, Tedesco is competing against Dr. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and state representative running as a progressive. Caraveo has support in John Hawthorne, a Democrat and retired sociology professor living in Commerce City who wants to see a return to governance and supports Caraveo because he thinks her statehouse experience sets her up for success in Washington.

“I'm really troubled by the current state of national politics, regardless of party, but you particularly see it on the right, a lot of posturing, a lot of good talking points that don't lend themselves to the kinds of decisions and policies that improve the quality of people's lives,” Hawthorne said.

Both Tedesco and Caraveo identify as Hispanic along with 38% of the district. While 86% of Coloradans statewide identify as white, only 52% of 8th District residents share that background. About 4% of the population is Asian and 2% Black.

Kuhlmann and Allcorn petitioned their way onto the ballot in March. The rest must be nominated through party assembly by April to appear on the June primary ballot.

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