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 Jan. 21, 2020.
Colorado’s former governor was running for president until Aug. 15, 2018, and repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he didn’t want to be a U.S. senator. “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper told Politico in February 2019. But as he left the national contest, he said he was giving the idea some serious thought. On Aug. 22, 2019, he made his Senate bid official.
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.
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.
- David Goldfischer, a University of Denver professor.
- Christopher Hawkins Critter Milton filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 5, 2019.
- 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.
- Michelle Ferrigno Warren launched her candidacy on Aug. 1. She works for the Christian Community Development Association and is an author and advocate who focuses on the immigration and education realms.
- Erik Underwood, a former Republican who became a Democrat before coming up short on gubernatorial bid in 2018, announced in January 2020 that he was running to unseat Gardner.
- 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 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.”
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. He ended his campaign on Sept. 12, 2019, citing Hickenlooper’s entrance into the contest. He also endorsed Hickenlooper’s candidacy.
Burgess is a former chair of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board and is the owner of a construction management company. She entered the race on Sept. 16, 2019, but quickly exited three days later amid Colorado Sun questions about federal tax liens against her.
Donovan, a state senator from Vail, was being courted by some in her party to launch a campaign. But when Hickenlooper entered the race in August 2019, she threw her support behind him and decided not to run.
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 Secretary of State Jena Griswold ended months of speculation about her immediate political future, announcing in early August that she won’t launch a primary bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020.
Johnston, a former state senator who ran for Colorado governor in 2018 but finished third in the primary, announced his Senate campaign on Jan. 31, 2019. He ended his bid on Sept. 2, 2019, citing Hickenlooper’s entrance into the race and the kind of campaign it would take to win his party’s nomination.
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.
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.
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 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, said after Hickenlooper announced he was getting into the race that he wouldn’t be running.
A spokeswoman for Perlmutter, of Arvada, said on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, that the seven-term congressman will not run for U.S. Senate. His name had been floated as a potential candidate to run against Gardner. But with speculation growing about Hickenlooper’s growing interest in the race, Perlmutter tossed his support behind the prospective campaign of Colorado’s former governor, tweeting: “John Hickenlooper was an outstanding governor and he would be a great senator for Colorado. If he decides to run, I’ll be proud to support him.”
The Grand Junction veteran dropped out of the race in May 2019, citing “family issues that require my attention.”
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. On Sept. 11, 2019, he exited the race, endorsing Hickenlooper.
Williams, a Democratic state senator representing Denver, filed paperwork to join the race on July 8, 2019. She exited on Nov. 27, 2019, announcing that she would be running for reelection to her statehouse seat instead.
This is a developing story that will be updated.
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