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Nicolais: Is Crisanta Duran a Centennial State AOC?

Crisanta Duran may be betting her political career on catching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s lightning in a bottle, but there are plenty of differences

Has any politician been more influential over the past eight months than U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Carpal-tunnel-inducing Twitter rants and liberal fan-fiction policy proclamations aside, Ocasio-Cortez seems to have touched off a revolution among progressive Democrats across the country.

In Colorado, Crisanta Duran appears to have picked up the banner and begun marching.

Mario Nicolais

Her shock announcement to mount a Democratic primary challenge against Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democratic incumbent with a quarter century of elections beneath her belt, caught most politicos by surprise.

The real question for Denver Democrats will be whether Duran represents a Centennial State version of Ocasio-Cortez or is just another ambitious politician trying to ride the current electoral wave.

The superficial comparisons between Ocasio-Cortez and Duran jump off the page. Young Latina women challenging the establishment in Democratic strongholds. Ocasio-Cortez harnessed discontent in the liberal base to knock off a 10-term incumbent last June. Duran hopes to do the same to a 12-term member in June 2020.

Furthermore, the districts look politically similar on paper: Democratic strongholds where the winner of the primary will stroll into Congress.

Voters in Ocacio-Cortez’s 14th Congressional District registered 66.7 percent with the Democratic Party, 10.3 percent Republican, and 24.2 percent independent or “blank;” not quite as liberal as several other New York seats boasting Democratic bastions hovering around the 80 percent registration mark, but still a safe blue district.

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Due to the statewide prevalence of unaffiliated voters, Colorado’s 1st Congressional District lists a comparatively paltry 43.4 percent Democratic registration — by far the highest percentage in any of Colorado’s seven congressional districts — though its 39.2 percent of unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly side with Democrats to swamp the 15.4 percent of Republicans, even when they run the state’s most colorful candidates.

A little more digging exposes big differences between Ocasio-Cortez and Duran. Some may help Duran’s campaign, while others should hinder it.

First, and foremost, Ocasio-Cortez ran against an arrogant incumbent who treated his seat as a birthright. Former Rep. Joe Crowley brushed off Ocasio-Cortez broadsides that alleged he abandoned his Bronx-Queens constituents for Beltway special interests.

By the time he responded, he’d already bled out. Duran won’t be so lucky. DeGette makes the two-thousand-mile trip home to meet with her Denver constituents on most weekends and Crowley’s blunder ensures she won’t be caught off-guard.

And unlike Ocasio-Cortez, Duran doesn’t exactly present a new, blank slate to Coloradans. Duran served eight years in the Colorado House, as Speaker for the last two.

That’s a sword that cuts both ways. While she will be able to champion her accomplishments on the campaign trail, DeGette’s allies will surely cherry-pick Duran’s voting record.

That’s an issue neophyte Ocasio-Cortez never had to address; she had the freedom to say anything without worrying that Crowley might dig up a contradictory vote from the past.

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In the end, whether Duran has much chance or not may depend on whether she can channel another Democratic member of Congress: Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Unlike Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi has weathered many political fights. She exudes the type of experience and toughness that makes her political allies respect her, even if they don’t like or agree with her.

Duran shares similar qualities.

Since her law school days – she was two years ahead of me at CU — Duran has been a formidable, ruthless political operator. She paved her path to becoming Colorado’s first Latina Speaker of the House over the metaphorical bodies of opponents who underestimated her resolve before crossing her political ambition.

She will need that same disciplined, no-holds-barred mentality if she wants to make the next 16 months until the primary memorable.

If Duran does overcome the odds and win, don’t be surprised if she consolidates more power and influence than Ocasio-Cortez over the next 10 years.

AOC hasn’t yet proved to be more than a flash in the pan, while Duran is a political survivor. But first, she’ll have to hope to catch some of Ocasio-Cortez’s lighting in a bottle if she hopes to serve alongside her.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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