Colorado’s 2020 race for U.S. Senate will be among the most watched congressional contests in the nation, with Republican Cory Gardner appearing vulnerable in a state with an electorate moving increasingly toward the center and left.
There are a host of Democratic candidates who have already announced campaigns to unseat Gardner, and many more big political names are weighing whether to jump into the race.
Even though Election Day is more than a year away, the campaign cycle is already underway and discussion about the issues that will define the race is heating up. Gardner, a first-term senator from the Eastern Plains regarded as a talented politician, is preparing for an expensive battle.
So here is who is running, who is weighing a bid and who isn’t interested in a campaign for the U.S. Senate next year:
Last updated on July 12, 2019.
Baer, who served as a diplomat under President Barack Obama and more recently was the head of Colorado’s Department of Higher Education, announced his bid on April 15, 2019. He was U.S. Ambassador for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Baer was in the Democratic primary for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District in 2018 before U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter decided to seek another term, at which point he ended his campaign. He will face a major name recognition hurdle in trying to win over voters and has not won elected office before.
Johnston is a former state senator who ran for Colorado governor in 2018 but finished third in the primary. The married Denver father served as an education adviser to then-President Barack Obama and was principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. He has a deep fundraising base and a campaign infrastructure rolled over from his gubernatorial bid, but he has clashed with the state’s teachers union and is not a proven statewide candidate. Johnston announced his campaign on Jan. 31, 2019.
Madden, a former state House Democratic leader, is entered the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on May 9, 2019. She narrowly lost a 2016 statewide contest for a seat on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents. She is a former majority leader in the Colorado House.
Romanoff is a well-known quantity in Colorado politics. He served as speaker of the state House during the last four years of his term in the legislature, which spanned from 2000 to 2008. This will be his third campaign for Congress — he lost in the 2010 primary for U.S. Senate against Michael Bennet and in 2014 failed to unseat former Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, of Aurora. Most recently, Romanoff was working as the CEO at Mental Health Colorado. While he has a degree of name recognition from his earlier political forays, Romanoff has not come close to winning a race of this magnitude before. Romanoff announced his campaign on Feb. 7, 2019.
Walsh is Colorado’s former U.S. attorney, a job to which the Democrat was appointed by Obama. He held the position for six years before leaving to return to private practice in 2016. In March 2019, Walsh announced he was leaving his high-powered job at the Denver office of WilmerHale to consider a run to unseat Gardner and then on April 16, 2019, formally jumped into the contest. He has never been elected to public office. Walsh will face a major name recognition hurdle in trying to win over voters.
Williams, a Democratic state senator representing Denver, filed paperwork to join the race on July 8, 2019. Williams told Politico that she met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer before making her decision. At the Colorado Capitol, she is known for her work on business issues. She has not run a statewide campaign for elected office before but so far is the only current elected official in the race.
There are a handful of candidates with little to no political experience who are mounting campaigns to unseat Gardner. Just getting on the primary ballot for a statewide race is a feat in itself, requiring 1,500 signatures from registered voters in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts — which costs north of $100,000. Candidates can also get on the ballot by attracting at least 30 percent of delegate votes at their party’s state assembly.
These long-shot candidates include:
- Diana Bray, a clinical psychologist and climate activist from Englewood, announced her bid on April 2.
- Lorena Garcia, a community organizer and executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition.
- Stephany Rose Spaulding announced on April 1 that she was joining the race. She’s a pastor, teacher and community activist who ran to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, in 2018, but came up short by 18 percentage points.
- Trish Zornio, a Superior scientist who wants to bring more scientific representation to Congress. She was among the first candidates to announce a 2020 run.
The people considering campaigns
Donovan, a state senator from Vail, is being courted by some in her party to launch a campaign. The state has never had a female U.S. senator, and she has proven herself able to win races in a moderate district.
Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, is considering whether to jump into the crowded Democratic primary. In April 2019, she met with U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York about the contest, a key step for potential candidates to bolster fundraising and support.
The first-term U.S. representative from Boulder won praise and attention during his first weeks in Congress, fueling speculation that he might be interested in Gardner’s job. The Democrat, however, would be giving up a safe seat early in his career for an anything-but-guaranteed campaign for higher office. He won’t say he’s interested in running — but he also won’t rule it out either.
Perlmutter, of Arvada, is in his seventh term as a U.S. representative, with a long history in Colorado’s Democratic politics. He was a member of the state legislature and briefly was a candidate for governor in the 2018 election cycle before proclaiming he didn’t have the “fire in the belly” to run and announcing his departure from politics. However, Perlmutter ultimately decided to run again for Congress in 2018, securing another term. Now, his spokeswoman says, “All the options are on the table, but he won’t be making a decision anytime soon.”
The people who are taking a pass
The former chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party and a finance professor at Colorado State University. She announced her candidacy April 17. On July 12 she exited the race telling supporters in an email that she will “pursue other community-focused leadership.”
The former Colorado House speaker was rumored to be among the top Democrats weighing a bid against Gardner in 2020. But in March 2019 she announced she was running to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, in a primary challenge.
Colorado’s former governor is running for president. And while many observers think he is the Democrats’ best chance to unseat Gardner, he isn’t currently planning on changing his path. “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper told Politico in February 2019. There is, however, plenty of time left for Hickenlooper to change his mind.
Kombo, a medical recruiter from Douglas County, ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Colorado House seat in 2018. She jumped into the Senate race only briefly before announcing at the beginning of April 2019 that she was stepping aside.
The Denver pharmacist was briefly in the race. While he made no formal announcement that he was dropping out, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Democratic Party says he told officials that he was departing the contest.
The Grand Junction veteran dropped out of the race in May 2019, citing “family issues that require my attention.”
This is a developing story that will be updated.
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