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Two Republicans aim to flip Colorado's newest congressional district two years after Democrat won a nail-biter

John Aguilar, The Denver Post on

Published in Political News

DENVER — The race for Colorado’s newly formed 8th Congressional District was one of the closest contests in the country in 2022, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Yadira Caraveo eking out a victory by a less-than-1% margin over her Republican opponent.

But state Rep. Gabe Evans, a first-term Weld County Republican whose Colorado House district largely overlaps the 8th, thinks he not only can narrow Caraveo’s margin but reverse it in his favor this November.

“I span that urban-rural divide,” said Evans, a former Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot and Arvada police officer who runs a small cattle operation on 17 acres near Fort Lupton. “I was a big city cop and I’ve lived that urban lifestyle. Now I live in Weld County — and I grew up rural.”

But first, Evans must defeat fellow Republican Janak Joshi in the June 25 primary to win the GOP nomination. The 8th District runs from the northern Denver suburbs in Adams County through the farms and oil and gas fields that stretch north to Greeley. On the Democratic side, Caraveo is unopposed.

Joshi, a former state lawmaker who served three terms in the Colorado House in the 2010s, is a retired physician. He did not provide answers to questions from The Denver Post and did not respond to several attempts to talk about his campaign.

During a primary debate at the Grizzly Rose in Denver earlier this month, Joshi said he was running for Congress “because I have to pay back my dues” for the opportunities he received in becoming a U.S. citizen. He’s an immigrant from India who has lived in Colorado for more than four decades. He said his experience with immigration and the health care sector, along with the legislature, mean he’s ready to hit the ground running in Congress.

“We need somebody who can start from Day One,” Joshi said.

Eric Sondermann, a Denver-based independent political analyst, said that in his appraisal, the June 25 election is “Gabe Evans’ primary race to lose.” He bases that on the fact that Joshi has lived in the 8th District for less than half a year, compared to six years for his opponent.

The Colorado Republican Party has endorsed Joshi, something that could work in his favor — or could be a liability, given the fierce internal criticism aimed recently at chair Dave Williams, Sondermann said. The outcry among Republicans intensified this month after the party sent an anti-LGBTQ+ email to supporters timed for Pride Month.

In the meantime, Evans has received the blessing of former President Donald Trump — despite Joshi, on his website, trumpeting: “Only Janak Joshi proudly backs Trump.” Evans also has outraised Joshi 4-to-1 in contributions, reporting nearly $525,000 raised as of March 31; new reports are due this week.

Matchup: Doctor versus cop

Joshi, 74, made a political name for himself representing the Colorado Springs area in the statehouse, but he failed in his bid for a City Council seat in Colorado’s second-largest city in 2017.

Joshi was a physician for 30 years, specializing in internal medicine and nephrology. His website states that he owned medical clinics and dialysis centers and employed as many as 50 people. He is married with two daughters and has lived in Colorado for 45 years; he relocated to Thornton just before entering the primary.

“My underlying philosophy of conservative common sense is shaped from a strong family, from my experience being welcomed to America, and from a core belief that we all have a God-given right to make as much of our lives as possible,” he wrote on his website.

Joshi’s medical career has come under fire in the race, with Evans asking him why he continues to represent himself as a doctor when he permanently surrendered his medical license in Colorado 16 years ago. State medical authorities had determined that Joshi failed to properly evaluate and adequately treat a patient.

At a recent debate, Joshi called the circumstances behind the surrender of his license “frivolous” and compared his situation to the legal troubles faced by Trump.

“Tell me how that plays against a Democrat who does have her (medical) license,” Evans told The Post, referring to Caraveo’s career as a pediatrician.

Joshi stakes out a more conservative position than Evans on several issues.

On immigration, he supports a “deport-them-all” strategy while Evans, the 37-year-old grandson of an immigrant from Mexico, says deportation should be prioritized for the “ones who are committing crimes” in the United States.

The two men also diverge on the extent to which the country’s national security agencies need reform.

During the Grizzly Rose debate, Joshi claimed that agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had been “weaponized” and were “abusing their power” against conservatives, most notably Trump. He advocated largely dismantling the national security apparatus and rebuilding it.

 

“We need to defund them and start all over again,” he said.

Evans called such a move foolhardy, saying: “You can’t abolish the intelligence agencies, especially when we have a wide-open southern border where we have terrorists and terrorist sympathizers coming through.”

Just last weekend in three U.S. cities, federal officials arrested eight men from Tajikistan with potential ties to the terrorist group ISIS. The men all crossed the southern border into the country, according to NBC News.

“You can always have more accountability from the federal government, but you can’t just wholesale get rid of it all,” Evans told The Post on Tuesday in an interview at Petrocco Farms in Brighton, where he addressed a group of women farmers at a luncheon.

Joshi has said he would join the hard-right House Freedom Caucus if elected in November. Evans said he would not. Both men would extend Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, saying the nation’s $34 trillion debt is due more to out-of-control government spending than a lack of taxpayer revenue.

Joshi has attacked Evans for the backing he’s received from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group tied to billionaire Charles Koch that threw its support to former Trump rival Nikki Haley during the GOP presidential primary.

The group has reported spending more than $290,000 in support of Evans, according to the website Open Secrets. No outside spending has been reported in support of Joshi.

Heavily Latino district

Evans long lived in and around metro Denver, starting out in Aurora and moving to Elbert County, Arvada and finally Weld County, where he and his wife are raising two young sons, in 2018. Evans showed his first calf when he was 12.

Despite his Latino heritage, he said he isn’t as fluent in Spanish as he would like to be. The 8th District is the most heavily Latino district in Colorado, with nearly 40% of residents identifying as such, and that segment of the electorate proved critical to Caraveo’s slim victory in 2022.

But with the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on Hispanic voters loosening somewhat in recent months, Evans thinks there’s an opportunity to connect with Latinos along more traditional lines.

“They’re about hard work, they are about building a better life for their families, they’re about faith,” he said. “Their story is my story.”

The state GOP, in endorsing Joshi last month, said in an email to party members that he “has a 100% record in defending taxpayers against out-of-control government spending while also being a leader to secure our border, finish the wall, protect the unborn, and defend the Second Amendment against weak Republicans and radical Democrats like Joe Biden and Yadira Caraveo.”

The party also said that, in its estimation, Joshi has a “higher likelihood of defeating the incumbent Democrat in the general election.”

But in this month’s primary, former Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams gives the edge to Evans.

“Gabe is a young candidate who has a military background and was a police officer and he lives in Weld County on a farm with his wife,” Wadhams said. “Crime is a big issue in the 2024 election — his background lends well to what voters are concerned about.”

Eighteen months ago, when Caraveo defeated state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, she “was able to beat as good a Republican as you’re going to get,” he said. But the race was so close that a Libertarian candidate may well have been a decisive factor. Richard Ward’s tally — 9,280 votes — was nearly six times the leading candidates’ margin.

That closeness is spurring Republicans’ hopes to flip the seat in 2024. The Cook Political Report rates the 8th Congressional District race as a toss-up in the fall, though the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia categorizes it as “leans Democratic.”

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