Last year I regularly tracked the major political races in Colorado leading up to Election Day in November. Since it’s never to early to talk about local political races, here’s my take on where things stand with 11 months until the primary and about 14 months until Election Day 2008:

U.S. Senate
If the race were held next week, Democrat Mark Udall would handily defeat Republican Bob Schaffer. A poll reportedly commissioned by Schaffer’s campaign was made public last week, and it doesn’t portend good things for Schaffer. According to that poll, in a head-to-head matchup, Udall is favored over Schaffer 45-40. This is really bad news for Schaffer because he is a Republican candidate in a state where Republican voters outnumber Democrats. Since the public isn’t paying attention to the race yet, Schaffer should at least be even – if not ahead – in the polls (for comparison’s sake, the first public poll that I can recall from the 2006 governor’s race was released in October 2005, at which point Republican Bob Beauprez led Democrat Bill Ritter 44-39).

We have seen from the last two statewide elections in Colorado that voters prefer a moderate candidate, whether it’s Ken Salazar in 2004 or Ritter last year. Neither Udall nor Schaffer are as moderate as Salazar or Ritter, but Schaffer is much more conservative than Udall is liberal; Udall may not be a true moderate candidate, but by comparison he is the more moderate of the candidates. It also doesn’t help Schaffer that voters will not be excited about a strong conservative in a Presidential year when a strong conservative like George Bush will be getting railed on from the left and the right. Schaffer is just the wrong kind of candidate in the wrong kind of year, and that gives Udall a huge natural advantage here.

CD-2 (Boulder/Broomfield)
The seat Udall is vacating in order to run for the Senate opens up what looks to be the hottest primary in the state in 2008. Three strong candidates are running – Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, millionaire Jared Polis and environmentalist Will Shafroth. The candidates, combined, raised nearly a million dollars in the second quarter of the year, so this figures to be one of the most expensive primary battles in recent memory.

Money probably won’t be much of an issue in this race because all three are solid fundraisers, so I give Fitz-Gerald a big edge here because she and her staff are the most politically-experienced group in the field. The Polis campaign has already made a couple of high-profile blunders, and I think the Amendment 41 debacle is really going to cause Polis problems once the negative commercials start airing.

Shafroth is the wild card here, because if he runs a solid and smart race he could either split the middle (giving voters a third option if the Fitz-Gerald/Polis fight becomes overly nasty) or do well enough to siphon enough votes to sway the election for one of the other two. In a head-to-head matchup between Fitz-Gerald and Polis (both long rumored for this seat), I think Fitz-Gerald would win easily; Shafroth makes it interesting, particularly if he is smart enough to run to the left and portray himself as the most liberal of the three candidates. A lot can, and will, change in the next 8-10 months, but right now I think Fitz-Gerald is the favorite based on experience.

CD-4 (Ft. Collins/Greeley/Eastern Plains)
Incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave defeated challenger Angie Paccione last November with the lowest winning percentage of any congressional member in the country. Getting so close to knocking off the Republican Musgrave apparently emboldened other Democrats to take a shot, with Betsy Markey (a former Ken Salazar staffer) and former Reform Party candidate Eric Eidsness joining Paccione for a primary fight next summer.

Even though Markey has been endorsed by Salazar, I give the advantage to Paccione in the primary because she has much higher name ID and Markey has thus far shown an inability to raise serious money. Primary voters are not party insiders – they are just a slightly more informed and active version of the generally uninformed and inactive average voter. The more well-known candidate usually wins these races, and that candidate will probably be Paccione.

None of this probably matters much, however, because I expect Musgrave to win the general election rather easily. Once known as an extreme right-wing conservative (she has repeatedly championed gay marriage ban legislation), Musgrave was scared straight after last year’s near-miss. She has been more visible in her district and has worked hard to appear more moderate, even standing with Rep. Udall on legislation, and those efforts should be enough to keep her safe in 2008. There are many more Republican voters than Democrats in CD-4, and while some say the district is changing, it’s not changing fast enough to erode the GOP advantage here. A less conroversial Republican should never be in danger here, and Musgrave is making the right moves to get rid of her right-wing image.

CD-5 (Colorado Springs)
I wrote at length about this race last week, but here’s the quick repeat: Incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn will likely lose his re-election bid to challenger Jeff Crank. Here’s what I wrote last Thursday:

We are witnessing, in the form of Lamborn, the destruction of a political career by the speed of which I cannot recall in recent memory. He has only been a member of congress of eight months, but a betting man would say that he has very little chance of being re-elected in 2008. In fact, I’ll go even further than that – I would be downright shocked if Lamborn was still a sitting member of congress in January 2009.

This will probably end up being a nasty primary fight once again, but the only thing that can save Lamborn this time is if a strong third candidate emerges who can split enough votes to save the incumbent. If the race comes down to just Crank and Lamborn, I think Crank will win rather easily.