Colorado Democrats hope for gains in Congress |

Colorado Democrats hope for gains in Congress

DENVER, Colorado ” Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave faced a vigorous re-election challenge while a left-leaning district appeared likely to send the first openly gay non-incumbent to Congress as Democrats tried to increase their 4-3 advantage in Colorado’s congressional delegation.

Musgrave is a stalwart conservative thought to be among the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress. She narrowly won her last two elections, and Colorado’s 4th District has become more Democratic since it first elected Musgrave in 2002. She faced a strong challenge from Democrat Betsy Markey, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

In the 2nd District, voters were deciding whether to send Internet businessman Jared Polis to Congress. That seat is overwhelmingly Democratic and is being vacated by Rep. Mark Udall, who is running for Senate.

Polis said earlier this fall that the potential of his becoming the first non-incumbent gay man elected to Congress figured little in the race. “Sexual orientation has been a non-issue,” Polis said.

Just 10 years ago, there were only two Democratic representatives from Colorado.

“This is a stunning turnaround,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. “I remember when we could pretty much have our delegation meetings in a phone booth in the cloakroom.”

Democrats’ biggest target in the House delegation was Musgrave, chief sponsor of President Bush’s failed 2003 attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.

Musgrave has downplayed her social conservatism, instead talking up her support for agriculture and veterans in a sprawling district that includes rural northern and eastern Colorado.

Aides to Musgrave concede she’s in the fight of her political career, but they point out that she has faced stiff challenges before and survived. Musgrave spent the weekend greeting voters at Wal-Mart stores across her district, and she was working the phones Tuesday.

“This thing is tighter than a new pair of cowboy boots,” said Musgrave’s chief of staff, Jason Thielman.

Speaking to supporters last week in Greeley, Markey predicted Democrats would make significant gains across the state and hand nine electoral votes to Barack Obama.

“Change this year is more than a word. It’s an anthem,” Markey said.

Other incumbents appeared likely to cruise to re-election. They include DeGette, in the 1st District; Democrat John Salazar, in the 3rd District; Republican Doug Lamborn, in the 5th District; and Democrat Ed Perlmutter, in the 7th District. Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican, was favored in the 6th District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Tancredo.

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