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As Congress Gets Back to Work, Redistricting Changes Loom Large

Members of Congress return to work today for what will likely be a divisive session during an election year. In Colorado, new congressional boundaries from redistricting will force some representatives to shift their political strategy and talking points to get reelected this year. And that means some changes for candidates in the 2nd and 4th Congressional districts.

A recent visit by 4th Congressional District Representative Jared Polis to Larimer County provides a visual of this change. The Democrat met with Loveland’s mayor and business officials to tour the former Agilent campus in west Loveland—the new home of the Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology.

This new business venture with NASA has the potential to bring more than a thousand jobs to Loveland and Northern Colorado. And now that Polis is representing this area, he’s looking to weave their aspirations into his political agenda.

“People are facing the same issues everywhere: jobs, the economy, how do we grow our middle class, balance our budget, but there are always the local issues and that’s what we’re learning as we visit the local communities,” he said during the visit.

The addition of Larimer County into the 2nd Congressional District means Polis will have to work harder to retain his seat. Right now Larimer has 14,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. And while Democrats have gained ground over the past decade, in recent years it’s Republicans who have been making marginal gains.

“Polis probably has to shift his strategy a bit,” says Colorado State University Associate Professor Kyle Saunders. “Polis might have to moderate stances on issues, might have to reach out to more unaffiliated voters, might have to compete a little harder—and that means getting out and pressing the flesh and doing all those things that someone in a safe seat might not have to do.”

Polis says he doesn’t see his reelection strategy changing much. Even with the new district boundaries he still holds an advantage of 16,000 more registered Democrats compared to Republicans. And that left some in Colorado’s GOP complaining that the district wasn’t competitive enough. But Saunders says it will be interesting to watch whether Polis starts tip toeing around issues like medical marijuana and gay marriage on the campaign trail.

“He will have to be consistent because he’s come out so strongly in the past on these issues,” says Saunders. “So it’s going to be harder for him to moderate. But I think there are other things with regard to economic development, sustainability—issues that might play better across the whole 2nd District as opposed to particular social issues.”

Perhaps the most competitive reelection bid will be in Representative Mike Coffman’s 6th Congressional District in southern Colorado. He lost several key Republican counties—including Arapahoe and Douglas to 4th Congressional Representative Cory Gardner, who now has one of the safest congressional districts in the state.

Saunders estimates that right now Gardner has an advantage of between 65,000 to 70,000 in the new 4th Congressional District boundaries, according to state voter registration rolls.

“That’s a huge advantage,” says Saunders.

Right now, Gardner says he doesn’t see the future Republican stronghold changing his voting behavior in Congress.

“The people of the new 4th Congressional District—just like the people of the present 4th Congressional District—are common sense,” says Gardner. “They just want to lead their lives, businesses and families in the way they want to so they can get back to work.”

But Gardner’s fundraising strategy will have to change. The congressman’s coffers will likely take a hit in personal donations by losing Larimer County according to CSU’s Kyle Saunders. Gardner says he’ll continue his current strategy for raising dollars, focusing on pro-business issues and the economy.

“…and that’s a message that resonates with people who are willing to support a campaign no matter where they’re at—whether they’re in Larimer County, Weld County or Douglas County.”

But then again Gardner might not need as much cash to run for reelection. That’s because challengers like State Democratic Senator Brandon Shaffer will have a hard time overcoming Gardner’s huge advantage in registered Republicans.

Meantime, Congressman Jared Polis gains economically flush Larimer County—home to Colorado State University and 6 percent unemployment, which is lower than the state average. But fundraising isn’t really a problem for the congressman, who in recent years has dominated Colorado’s other Congressional Democrats in his money-raising skills, and has vast wealth of his own.

So far Polis only has one competitor: Republican State Senator Kevin Lundberg—a conservative who is against gay marriage and for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But more are expected to enter the field in the coming months.