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Politics and Government

Here’s what the crowded Democratic field for U.S. Senate is missing, and why it may soon change

Former Colorado House Speaker Alice Madden is expected to enter the contest. Secretary of State Jena Griswold is mulling a bid.

Jena Griswold, then a Democratic candidate for Colorado Secretary of State, at a Highlands Ranch campaign event in September 2018. (Marvin Anani, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The Democratic field of candidates for the U.S. Senate race expanded to roughly a dozen this week, but there is still something missing: a woman with a political track record in Colorado.

That is expected to change soon.

Alice Madden, a former state House Democratic leader, is expected to enter the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in coming weeks.

And Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who took office in January, is considering whether to jump into the crowded Democratic primary. Earlier this month, Griswold 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. State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, also is mulling a run.

Colorado is one of only five states that have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or governor, but advocates say 2020 is the year that changes.

“I think that Democrats are going to vote for the person they think can beat Cory Gardner and I think it’s a woman,” said former Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, a co-founder of Denver-based Electing Women PAC. “It’s not somebody who looks like Cory Gardner, it’s somebody who’s different from him.”

EMILY’s List, an organization that promotes women candidates who support abortion rights, is actively recruiting in the race and considers the seat a top national target.

Maeve Coyle, a spokeswoman, said the organization believes Gardner the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the U.S. Senate, and donors across the nation are interested in seeing a woman make a credible run.

“The field is far from settled,” Coyle said. “That’s how it feels to us right now.”

Right now, the field includes roughly a dozen candidates with four prominent men at the front, led, in terms of fundraising, by former Sen. Mike Johnston, who finished third in the Democratic primary for governor in 2018.

Two entered this week: former Ambassador Dan Baer and former U.S. Attorney John Walsh, both of whom served under President Barack Obama. Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who lost a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 2010, is another contender.

Madden and Griswold declined to comment about their future plans.

A handful of women are making bids for the party’s nomination, but are starting at a significant disadvantage with little or no prior political experience and limited fundraising. Gardner ended March 31 with $3.4 million in his campaign account.

MORE: Here’s who’s running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 — and who’s thinking about it

Much of the early Democratic energy focused on a potential bid by former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran but earlier this year she switched course and decided to launch a primary challenge to longtime U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver.

Between the three women being most talked about now, Griswold is the only to win a statewide race in 2018, though it came in a wave year for Democrats. Madden narrowly lost a 2016 statewide contest for a seat on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents. Donovan is a two-term state senator, part of the largest contingent of women lawmakers in state history, but has never run statewide.

It’s not just that a woman runs, Donovan said, but “it’s that the right candidate fits in.”

“Colorado elects candidates that fit the state and fit the districts,” she added.

Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, speaks on Feb. 1, 2019, at a town hall meeting in Frisco about the high cost of health care in Colorado’s mountain communities. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Schoettler, who lost a bid for governor in 1998, said she expects women who enter the campaign will focus more on certain issues, such as housing, health care, public schools. And she’s not worried about more than one woman in the candidate field.

“I’m actually really excited to have women saying, ‘You bet I can do it,’ and going for it,” she said.

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