Republican candidates for Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District: Barbara Kirkmeyer, Lori Saine, Jan Kulmann and Tyler Allcorn

The political balance in Congress come November could well pivot on how voters cast their ballots in Colorado’s 8th Congressional District — the state’s first new U.S. House district in 20 years.

The district, which stretches from Commerce City in the south to Greeley in the north, is considered one of the most competitive in the country. It’s also nearly 40% Latino.

While it boasts a relatively even breakdown between registered Republican and Democratic voters, it has a larger group of unaffiliated voters — nearly 200,000 strong — who will make the final call on Election Day.

“It’s really the only newly added district in the country that’s a pure toss-up,” said David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report. “It’s at the fulcrum of competitiveness in the House and it’s fascinating to watch.”

The Cook Political Report ranks the 8th Congressional District as one of only 33 “toss-up” House races this fall — out of 435 seats total — and gives it a one-point Republican advantage.

But before a winner can be determined, there’s a primary to get through. Ballots for the June 28 election started landing in voters’ mailboxes last week. Democrats have already rallied around state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, an Adams County pediatrician who faces no primary competition.

That leaves the immediate action in the 8th on the GOP side. Voters will choose among four Republican contenders: state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann and Army veteran Tyler Allcorn.

“We rate the district as a toss-up, although it has the profile of the kind of seat where, at the end of the day, Republicans might have an edge in November given the political environment,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Open seats like this are often the kinds of districts that break in favor of the wave.”

But it will matter which candidate the Republicans opt for this month. Far-right sensibilities, in the style of conservative firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert, will more than likely not fly in a district so evenly split, say political analysts.

As for the incendiary Donald Trump-driven charge that the 2020 election was stolen, three of the four candidates outright dismiss the former president’s claim. But Saine, who said in an interview with The Denver Post that she is “without a doubt” the most conservative candidate on the ballot, didn’t expressly reject or embrace the notion.

“A lot of voters in this district have reached out to me about election questions and concerns about election integrity,” she said.

Several election watchers told The Post that being the most conservative candidate in a politically moderate district — President Biden beat Trump in the would-be 8th by nearly 5% in 2020, according to Politico — could spell trouble for Saine.

“She might make some ultra-conservative hearts go pitter-patter in June, but she’s totally unelectable in November,” independent analyst Eric Sondermann said.

But Saine, who served eight years in the Colorado House before becoming a commissioner in Weld County last year, says her conservative credentials are no liability. She is in the race to push back on policies promulgated by Democrats in charge, which she blames for the nation’s high inflation, escalating violent crime and chaos at the border.

“I have a heart for service, to keep our country free and the land of opportunity for the next generation of Americans,” she said. “The next Congress will decide whether we are free or in a socialist nightmare supported by Yadira Caraveo, who doesn’t respect individual liberty or freedom.”

The Denver Post spent time with the GOP candidates in recent weeks as they prepared for the first stage of a fight to represent the 721,000 Coloradans of the 8th Congressional District, from those living in fast-growing suburbs north of Denver to those calling the farm and energy fields of Weld County home.

Jan Kulmann (Thornton)

It didn’t take long — a minute at most — for Northglenn resident Ken Hayter to bemoan the rising price of gasoline. Pointing to his white Ford F-150 in the driveway of his modest home deep in Denver’s northern suburbs, he told Kulmann that it cost him $100 to fill up.

“I hope to see you in Congress,” Hayter told the Thornton mayor, as she moved up Franklin Street on a muggy late May afternoon knocking on doors.

Kulmann, a director of well construction for Whiting Petroleum Corp., said she can best address the worst bout of inflation the country has seen since the 1980s. As energy markets influence so much of the overall economy, she pointed to her expertise in the industry as invaluable.

“Energy is a big priority and voters can count on me to keep having their back in expanding our domestic energy production and bringing these costs down,” Kulmann said. “And I think as an oil and gas engineer, I’m uniquely qualified to be able to solve these problems.”

Kondik, from the University of Virginia, said a focus on runaway prices — at both stores and at the pump — is the Republicans’ best attack line in the general election.

“Republican candidates across the country are likely going to operate from a familiar playbook — keep the focus on presenting themselves as a counterweight to an unpopular President Biden and criticize the administration on issues like gas prices and inflation,” he said.

The Democrats, Kulmann said, are desperate to keep the debate over the economy from being front and center. They are using the hot-button issue of abortion — which has gained renewed attention after the leak of a Supreme Court opinion suggesting the justices might strike down Roe v Wade — as a smokescreen.

“Democrats in Colorado and D.C. have become reckless and extreme on late-term abortion,” Kulmann said. “And part of it is cynical politics — Democrats want a fight over abortion because the country is so angry at them about inflation and energy prices.”

Kulmann opposes abortion “except in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

The 46-year-old Thornton mayor leads the money game among Republicans in the 8th Congressional District, with nearly $400,000 raised. Allcorn is second with just over $300,000. Kirkmeyer and Saine are not far behind, with close to $250,000 each in receipts, as of the most recent reporting period.

But Kulmann casts herself as the non-politician in the race, despite having served the better part of a decade on Thornton’s city council. She often pins the “career politician” label on two of her opponents, if not by name.

“There are no simple solutions in life, but I think most Americans would agree with me when I say – fewer career politicians in Washington, DC would at least be the start of making our country better,” she said. “I’m an oil and gas engineer, a mayor and a mom. In my time as a school board member, city council member, and mayor, I have never stopped working my day job in the energy industry. That keeps me grounded.”

Kulmann’s time on Thornton City Council hasn’t been without controversy — she was criticized by colleagues for helping oust a fellow council member earlier this year over a residency dispute and she was sued by a resident last year over whether she’s violating term limits.

In 2018, Kulmann was sued in federal court by two anti-fracking activists who claimed she had blocked them from her official Facebook page. But Kulmann said those incidents are merely examples of increasing politicization at the local level — an echo of what’s been happening nationally.

There are more important issues at play in the 8th, she said.

“This race is a referendum on Joe Biden, plain and simple,” she said. “I will beat Biden and (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi the same way I have always beat the far left in Thornton — through hard work, by talking to people, and by focusing on solutions.”

Barbara Kirkmeyer (Brighton)

Fifty miles north of Northglenn, inflation was also center stage at Aunt Helen’s Coffee House in Greeley, where Barbara Kirkmeyer held court last month.

A dozen attendees, including Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams and former Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, sat around a table in a back room. Greg Yielding, executive vice president of the Greeley-based Onion Growers Association, warned that rising prices won’t be cooling any time soon.

“Get ready for it,” Yielding said several times about inflation. “If we don’t do something about fuel and energy costs…”

Water, oil and gas, gun violence and farming were all discussed in the coffee shop. In an interview after the roundtable, the first-term state senator readily recounted what she’s been hearing from voters in the 8th Congressional District.

“It’s about the economy, it’s about inflation, it’s about public safety — and at the national level, it’s about border security,” she said.

Kirkmeyer, 63, is well-known in Weld County, having served two stints as commissioner as well as acting director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs under Gov. Bill Owens. She was elected to the state Senate in 2020.

“I think my record of advancing conservative policies in the face of Democratic majorities is
unparalleled in this race,” Kirkmeyer said. “I led Weld County to zero debt, reduced taxes, worked to make Weld a Second Amendment sanctuary in the face of liberal, anti-gun laws, and I resisted Governor Polis’ and bureaucrats’ mandates and lockdowns during COVID.”

And as the former owner of a dairy farm for 15 years and a fourth-generation Coloradan, Kirkmeyer said she is the go-to candidate on agricultural issues, which loom large over the 8th district and in the three counties — Adams, Weld and Larimer — that lie inside it.

“When I win this race, I’ll be the only congressperson from our state that has a farming background,” she said.

And that goes for more than just the more rural stretches of the district in Weld County, Kirkmeyer said. Wide swaths of Adams County, she said, possess as much of an agricultural heritage.

“You drive around Brighton and it’s still very agrarian in nature,” she said.

On abortion, Kirkmeyer is firmly against it. But she does make an exception “for when the life of the mother is in imminent danger,” she told The Post. That nuance on the issue could prove critical in such a competitive race, Sondermann said.

“The key is to show some degree of moderation,” he said. “Moderation will tend to serve you well in such a coin-flip type of district.”

While there have been questions about how much traction Republicans can gain with the Latino electorate in the 8th Congressional District, which could account for nearly two of every five votes cast, Kirkmeyer said that’s not an issue for her.

“They are looking for someone who makes a difference in their lives and changes course in D.C.,” she said. “Latino and Hispanic families are part of the fabric of our community and have been involved and engaged in the community for generations.”

The University of Virginia’s Kondik said the long-standing Latino affiliation with Democratic candidates is far from certain these days.

“There is a possibility that Democratic support among Latinos could erode in 2022, as Biden’s approval with Latino voters appears weak,” he said. “This may be a good district to watch for how Biden/Democrats are doing with this important bloc.”

Lori Saine (Dacono)

Around 100 people, kids in tow, gathered around Lori Saine at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg as the Weld County commissioner touted her record both in the county and during her eight years at the statehouse.

The questions lobbed at her were varied — and in one case, unexpected — in a county that produces the lion’s share of Colorado’s oil and gas: A man asked what Saine would do for the solar industry.

Another asked how she would handle burdensome regulations on gravel mining while a woman asked Saine what her first actions in Congress would be. Saine was quick to respond that she would tackle border security and shrink the size of government by 20%.

“There’s probably a reason Weld County is debt-free,” she said.

But mostly, Saine attempted to differentiate herself from her primary competitors by citing various political scorecards ranking her as the most conservative politician in the bunch.

“I’m here to represent anyone who supports freedom,” she shouted to applause.

Despite warnings from politics watchers that Saine leans too far right for a solidly purple district like the 8th, the 47-year-old Indiana native and 20-year Colorado resident talks a lot about negotiation and give-and-take at the state Capitol when she was a lawmaker.

“As a legislator, despite fierce opposition, I passed some of the most significant legislation under the gold dome in reducing barriers for first-time homebuyers and seniors with housing with construction defects reform,” she said. “By reducing the size of the bureaucracy, red tape and barriers to entry and good governance, the legislature can refocus taxpayer dollars on core mission issues like building roads has helped everyone in Colorado, including CD8.”

Saine has had public missteps in office, most notably in January 2019 when she claimed blacks and white Republicans were lynched in “nearly equal” numbers following Reconstruction during discussion of a resolution honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A year prior to that, Saine was arrested on suspicion of bringing a loaded gun to a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport. The case was dropped after prosecutors determined the then-state lawmaker had simply forgotten the gun was in her purse.

Saine is focused on what’s ahead. She criticized the recent $40 billion aid package to Ukraine that Congress passed and the president signed last month and is using it to call attention to America’s ballooning national debt and its own unresolved border problems.

“Joe Biden won’t defend the southern border of the United States with the drug cartels out of control but he is willing to pass future debt along to our children to defend Ukraine,” she said. “The families I’ve talked to in CD8 overwhelmingly think that is not right.”

Tyler Allcorn (Arvada)

The topic of financial aid to Ukraine is one that Tyler Allcorn, a former U.S. Army Green Beret, addresses with confidence and conviction. Allcorn, who did four combat tours in Syria and Iraq, remembers Russian planes flying overhead while he was on duty.

But the 37-year-old Canadian native, who was born in Saudi Arabia but obtained U.S. citizenship after his father moved the family to Texas for a job in the oil and gas industry, worries about how the money that’s going out the door is being tracked.

“Where’s the $40 billion going to go?” Allcorn asked. “We already have an inflation problem. Where are they going to get the $40 billion? We’re already in debt so they’re just going to print it, which is just in turn going to exacerbate the inflationary problems we’re having now.”

Putting that money toward fortifying the southern border or completing the wall would be a better use of the funds, he said.

“Sending $40 billion to a country that is known for corruption — to have zero accountability for where that’s going to go — that’s not a comforting thing for taxpayers,” Allcorn said.

Allcorn also worries about the United States veering away from its status as energy independent as the war in Ukraine, with accompanying embargoes on Russian oil and gas exports, upends global energy markets. And how does that impact thousands of oil and gas workers in the 8th Congressional District, he asked.

“It’s not just that it’s affecting us — look at gas prices affecting us — it’s also affecting our opportunities, it’s affecting the cost of living of the areas we’re living in,” he said. “Things are skyrocketing and they work in those industries.”

While he readily criticizes the Biden administration for displaying “weak leadership,” Allcorn doesn’t buy Trump’s contention that the 2020 election was rigged.

“I think a lot of voters are having buyer’s remorse after only one year of Joe Biden in office, but the election in 2020 wasn’t stolen and unfortunately Joe Biden is the President of the United States,” he said. “We can’t afford a situation where voters don’t have confidence in our elections and that’s why I will fight for commonsense policies like voter I.D. to combat voter fraud and secure our elections.”

Allcorn works for Shift, an organization that helps veterans find jobs while transitioning out of the military. He has been dismissed by some opponents as a carpet-bagger, given that he has lived in Colorado less than two years and his home is just outside the 8th district in Arvada.

Allcorn doesn’t let that get to him.

“Once I win this election, then my wife and I will move into the district and it won’t be an issue,” he said. “My call to service for this country is much higher than where I live.”

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