House District 4 primary election results: Cecelia Espenoza maintains early lead over Tim Hernández

It’s a rematch as state Rep. Tim Hernández faces a challenge from Cecelia Espenoza.
8 min. read
State Representative and incumbent Tim Hernández (left) and candidate Cecelia Espenoza.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

In the Democratic Primary, challenger Cecelia Espenoza has taken the lead in her race against incumbent Rep. Tim Hernández, who is fighting to defend his District 4 State House seat.  

Espenoza has 54 percent of the vote, while Hernández has secured 46 percent, as of 11:30 p.m. — the lead having narrowed slightly as the night went on.

Shortly before midnight, Hernández said he would not concede the race yet.

Candidate reactions

Espenoza was feeling confident after the 7 p.m. vote drop, crediting her team's on-the-ground campaigning for their success.

"We feel pretty confident that hopefully we're going to win," she said.

House District 6 candidate Cecelia Espenoza cheers the first data drop on Election Night, during her watch party at The Bar At Plaza 38. June 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Fifteen minutes after the first returns dropped, Tim Hernández arrived at Convivio Cafe to the cheer of supporters. He had not reviewed the returns.

Though he lagged in the early polls, supporters said they were still optimistic. He wasn’t that far behind — roughly 11 points — and progressives tend to vote late, his Communications Director Jennifer Dillon said.

“I know how hard representative Hernández has worked on this campaign,” said Denver City Councilmember Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who left the District 4 seat to serve on council, leaving a vacancy that Hernández filled in September.

“He has tons of supporters, volunteers that have shown up, day after day, weekend after weekend for the last several months to campaign for him, to support him. So I'm feeling great about tonight,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.

Hernández spent Election Day knocking on more than 220 doors. At one of his stops, a resident was selling a green lowrider truck. He purchased it and drove it to his Election Night watch party.

Tim Hernández with the green lowrider truck he bought on Election Day.
Kyle Harris/Denverite
A guy sold it to him as he was canvassing for his reelection.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

As the next ballot count approached, spirits remained high at his Convivio Cafe. Union organizers, Palestinian rights activists, musicians and others gathered to celebrate their candidate.

Hernández expected early returns to be low, but he’s confident that the effort he’s put into the campaign will pay off in same-day voters.

“I knocked 220 doors today, houses and apartment complexes in Barnum and Westwood and all over the place to make sure that we could get voters to the polls and make sure that we could get across the finish line today,” he said.

Statewide the stakes in the election, as he sees it, couldn’t be higher.

"We're going to decide tonight, and whenever we get the results of this election, about whether corporate conservative Republican and moderate interests are going to be able to buy elections in Colorado via conservative candidates, or if we're going to actually organize ourselves to implement progressive values and progressive policies in the Capitol from a very real place," he said.

As the cafe closed up right before midnight, forcing attendees to leave, Hernández addressed the crowd in an emotional speech. He did not concede.

"There's a lot of moving pieces still, so I'm not going to call anything," he said.

"I know that the right thing to do is to struggle with everything that we have."

Hernández supporters, including pro-Palestinian activists, were on hand to support him

Natalie, a Palestinian advocate with the Colorado Palestine Coalition who declined to give her last name, praised Hernández for being the rare lawmaker who has vocally supported Palestinian rights.

“Tim has been substantial in helping us express why a free Palestine is a cause that needs to be talked about on a local level, on a city level, on the state level,” Natalie said. “And Tim has been the number one advocate for us.”

State Rep. Tim Hernández and Deep Badhesha go through the numbers after the second data drop of Election Night, during a watch party at Convivio Cafe on 38th Avenue. June 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

As results rolled in, some in the crowd began to worry that Hernández was losing.

Regardless of the outcome, Natalie is proud of the campaign’s work.

“Ultimately, for us, we are just proud of the people power that led us to this particular place, and this particular time, and we're proud of the community,” she said.

More on the HD-4 race

The Democratic primary victor will take on Republican Jack Daus, the sole GOP contender for the seat in a district that has voted to elect the Democratic candidate for well over a decade. 

Whoever wins the general election in November will represent a swath of north and west Denver, from the north of the Regis neighborhood to the middle of Westwood. 

Both Democratic candidates already competed last year to fill the vacancy left by previous state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who left the role in July 2023 after winning an at-large Denver City Council seat.

Hernández won the vacancy fight and has been on the job since September. 

Hernández's political path, from classroom to state office

Hernández was previously an ethnic studies teacher at an Aurora High School and a teacher’s union leader.

Hernández has championed support for youth in the juvenile justice system and advocated for a Chicano-themed license plate. He helped usher through legislation that gave new immigrants the ability to apply for a driver’s license upon arrival in Colorado.  

He has been a proponent of rent control, renters protections and eviction prevention. 

“Everybody likes to talk about homelessness because it is the physical manifestation of failed housing policy,” Hernández told Denverite earlier this year. “The top two reasons why folks are ending up homeless, according to the Colorado Coalition of the Homeless, is one because they were evicted … and two because they couldn't afford their rent.”

State Rep. Tim Hernández's chats with supporters during his Election Night watch party at Convivio Cafe on 38th Avenue. June 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

He has made headlines for his vocal opposition to Israel’s war against Hamas and mass killings in Gaza. 

He’s a supporter of gun violence prevention in schools and increasing education funding and school resources. 

“I'm elected to represent the north and west side of Denver, which means that my responsibility, my obligations in the center of my decision making will remain the north and west side of Denver,” Hernández said. “Leaders do not tell people what to believe. Leaders lead at the will of our community and that means that we have to love our community loudly first.”

Cecelia Espenoza is fighting to defeat Hernández — again

Espenoza spent her career as an immigration judge and attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. She served in leadership positions in national Hispanic corporate and community groups. 

Since losing the vacancy campaign, she began to tour through District 4, meeting residents and hearing about their most pressing issues. Housing dominated those conversations.

She wants to push for property tax reforms that would prevent the State from surprising residents with higher bills. She’d also like to collaborate with the Denver assessor on helping people pay off their surprise property tax bills in installments. 

Espenoza, like her opponent, would like to regulate the rates of rent increases.

House District 6 candidate Cecelia Espenoza celebrates with her supporters after the first data drop on Election Night, during her watch party at The Bar At Plaza 38. June 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“The biggest difficulty that I'm hearing at the doors is being hit with unexpected expenses,” Espenoza told Denverite earlier this year. “My goal would be for homeowners and renters to minimize their unexpected expense increase. I've heard of people in rental units that have had up to 100 percent increases thrown at them from landlords. That's unacceptable. We don't allow that in usury. We don't allow that in other places of law. So, we need to make sure that we're providing protections on that side.”

District 4 has some of the most dangerous roads in the state. Espenoza wants to work with both Colorado lawmakers and city lawmakers to create safety improvements across her community. 

She’s a proponent of expanding mental health care and protections for reproductive rights and gender-affirming care. Espenoza is interested in exploring education and criminal justice reform. 

“You want someone who's going to represent everybody,” Espenoza told Denverite. “My commitment is to unity, leadership, tenacity and experience. I think that I have an understanding of all of HD4 and its constituents and needs.”

Desiree Mathurin contributed reporting to this story. 

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