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Candidates compete eagerly for Colorado's new congressional district seat

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The road to control Congress may run through a new House district in Colorado. An independent commission drew new political lines and made the seat one of the most evenly split in the nation. Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland reports.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Colorado gained an eighth congressional seat because of population growth. It spans the suburbs north of Denver through booming bedroom communities, farm fields and thick clusters of oil and gas wells. The district is also the most diverse in Colorado. Nearly 40% of the population is Latino.

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BARBARA KIRKMEYER: They are a part of the fabric of our community, a fabric of our community that is rich with their heritage, which has become our heritage.

BIRKELAND: That's Republican candidate Barbara Kirkmeyer at the launch of the Republican National Committee's Hispanic Community Center in this new district. It's part of a nationwide GOP effort to reach voters of color. Kirkmeyer says voters of all backgrounds tell her their top issue this election is cost of living.

KIRKMEYER: It's the No. 1 issue that people bring up. It's the No. 1 issue that people bring up at birthday parties, at backyard barbecues, at family gatherings. It's how much it's costing for food, for shelter, for energy, for transportation. That's it.

BIRKELAND: It's top of mind for Desiree and Jeremiah Vigil, who live in this district and are in their 40s. Desiree is a nurse.

DESIREE VIGIL: Housing market is through the roof, making it unaffordable for my kids to buy a house now.

BIRKELAND: Desiree is a Republican. Her husband, Jeremiah, a loan officer, says he's a moderate.

JEREMIAH VIGIL: I think probably housing market is big for me; infrastructure as well and inflation, obviously.

BIRKELAND: Kirkmeyer's opponent, Democrat Yadira Caraveo, is a pediatrician and, like Kirkmeyer, a state lawmaker. Caraveo's parents immigrated from Mexico before she was born. She says her dad supported the family on a construction worker's salary, something she sees as increasingly out of reach for many families. Caraveo pushes back against attacks that Democrats are the cause of rising costs and increasing crime.

YADIRA CARAVEO: I think it's easy to buy into kind of the fear mongering that the other side does, where they point out just the negatives. But it's really important to look at the specifics of what we have done.

BIRKELAND: Caraveo highlights moves by Colorado's Democratic-controlled government to close some tax loopholes and reduce health care costs.

CARAVEO: I think that I have a true focus on working families, you know? I come from one. I have taken care of thousands of working families in this district as a pediatrician.

BIRKELAND: Her opponent, Kirkmeyer, also has working-class roots. And before entering politics, she owned a dairy farm and flower shop. Both women, by and large, follow the positions of their political parties, whether it's gun control, government spending, climate or abortion. Colorado voters have repeatedly rejected restrictions on the procedure, and Democrats recently codified abortion protections into state law. But Kirkmeyer doesn't believe the 2020 election was stolen, and she supports gay marriage. High-profile members of both political parties have campaigned with Kirkmeyer and Caraveo. Outside groups are also pouring millions of dollars into trying to sway voters in a race that could go either way.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MF DOOM'S "SARSAPARILLA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.