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Colorado’s former U.S. attorney leaves high-powered law firm to explore run against Cory Gardner

Colorado’s former top federal law enforcement official, should he decide to run, would join a growing field of challengers to the first-term Republican senator. Walsh said he will make up his mind in April.

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John Walsh, Colorado’s former U.S. attorney, has stepped down from his job at a high-powered Denver law firm to explore joining the closely-watched race to unseat Republican Cory Gardner.

John Walsh, Colorado’s former U.S. attorney. (Provided by the U.S. Attorney Office in Colorado, via Twitter)

“I hope to make a decision on a Senate run by the end of April,” Walsh said in a statement to The Colorado Sun. “It’s never been more important to have a senator who has the strength to stand up to Donald Trump and who fights every day for Colorado’s progressive values.  That’s clearly not Cory Gardner.”

Walsh, a Democrat appointed by President Barack Obama, served six years as the top federal law enforcement official Colorado before leaving that post in 2016 to return to private practice. He was replaced in the interim by Bob Troyer before President Donald Trump tapped Jason Dunn to permanently hold the job.

Walsh worked at the WilmerHale law firm in Denver starting in 2017, where he led a team that handled criminal and complex civil litigation. The firm’s co-managing partners announced his departure Monday.

During his stint as U.S. attorney, Walsh oversaw the federal law enforcement response to the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Walsh is well connected in Colorado’s political circles, but he has never held an elected office. WilmerHale’s Denver office is led by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

If Walsh decided to run for Gardner’s seat, he will join a crowded Democratic field that’s expected to grow even larger.

The race already includes Mike Johnston, a former state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, and former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff, who has two failed bids for Congress under his belt.

In addition to Johnston and Romanoff, lesser-known Democrats in the race to unseat Gardner, a first-term senator from Yuma, include Lorena Garcia, who leads the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition; Trish Zornio, a scientist; Dustin Leitzel, a pharmacist; and Keith Pottratz, a veteran.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP members of the U.S. Senate in 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, of Boulder, and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, of Vail, also are rumored to be among those considering joining the field.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, of Arvada, told The Denver Post he’s not currently considering a run for Gardner’s seat. And former Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran, of Denver, was weighing a bid for the post before she opted instead to launch a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette for her job.

Gardner is thought to be one of the most endangered Republican senators in the nation for next year’s election. That’s because of Colorado’s electorate shifting to the middle and left.

MORE: Why Cory Gardner endorsed Donald Trump — and whether it helps or hurts him

Walsh helped oversee the federal government’s interaction with Colorado as it implemented legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. He was one of the state’s longest serving U.S. attorneys.

During his tenure as U.S attorney, Walsh led the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee — a key role in developing policies for U.S. attorneys throughout the nation.

Updated on March 19, 2019, at 10:20 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s remarks about a potential challenge by the Arvada Democrat to Republican Cory Gardner.


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