November 2 2004, 7:14 AM
The presidential and U.S. Senate races have (deservedly) received most of the attention in Colorado this campaign season. But this campaign season has also seen an epic struggle for control of the state Senate. In 2000, Democrats surprised the self-described experts by taking control of that chamber, only to lose it by a single seat in 2002. At that point, Republicans used their control of both state houses and the governor's mansion to pass the controversial "midnight redistricting" bill of 2003, which attempted to redraw the federal congressional districts in an effort to preserve the GOP's 5-2 majority in the Colorado delegation. The Colorado Supreme Court voided that effort as unconstitutional, and now the Democrats are back with an even more energetic effort to regain control of the Senate. Several prominent Democrats founded and funded Forward Colorado, a so-called "527" advocacy organization that has spent over $250,000 in six key races. Its Republican counterpart, the Senate Majority Fund, has spent only $100,000. Forward Colorado has not pulled any punches -- in the hard fought race for Senate District 14 in Larimer County, Forward Colorado sponsored a website attacking the GOP candidate, Fort Collins Mayor Ray Martinez, for his apparent fondness for taxpayer-funded travel. Another key battleground has been Senate District 8 in northwestern Colorado, where Democratic environmentalist/rancher Jay Fetcher of Clark is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs. Both parties and their supporters have poured money into this race, which has been marred by accusations of push polling and other dirty campaign tricks. The Democrats do have one major disadvantage -- because this is the year their class of 2000 comes up for re-election, they have more seats to defend than to try to pick up. But if the Democrats can pull off a repeat of their 2000 success story, their Senate majority could create serious problems for Governor Bill Owens as he spends his last two years in office grooming himself for a possible Presidential bid in 2008.