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Former Colorado House Majority Leader Alice Madden, left, announced Thursday, May 8, 2018, that she is running for U.S. Senate. (Handout)
Former Colorado House Majority Leader Alice Madden, left, announced Thursday, May 9, 2019, that she is running for U.S. Senate. (Handout)

Alice Madden, a former Democratic leader in the Colorado House and an unsuccessful 2016 candidate for University of Colorado regent, is jumping into the crowded primary race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

Madden is aiming to set herself apart from the rest of the field as the most well-known woman in the race so far and by touting her credentials on climate change and history working in Washington. She launched her campaign on Thursday.

“This isn’t the time to learn on the job,” Madden said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. “I think I’m the only person who’s worked in D.C. in connection with Congress and dealing with lawmakers. I think my experience makes me the best suited right now to go to Washington and start making changes we need right away.”

Madden’s entrance into the race puts the Democratic candidate count at a dozen and expected to rise, but she is the first woman to enter the fray who has run for statewide office and who has a long political track record in Colorado. She served as a state lawmaker from 2001 to 2008, including as Colorado House majority leader, and then worked on environmental issues under former Gov. Bill Ritter, as a climate change adviser, and President Barack Obama, in his Department of Energy.

In 2016, Madden ran for an at-large University of Colorado regent seat and lost by three points to Republican Heidi Ganahl.

Ultimately, it was former Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran’s decision not to join the race that really propelled Madden into the contest. “When she dropped out, I looked more closely at the current field,” she said. “I didn’t see anyone who I thought could be the transformative leader that we need right now.”

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

When asked why she thinks she will now be able to win a statewide race after her 2016 loss, Madden said “the regent races are so hard to break through” since they are lower on the ballot and don’t get as much attention at top-line contests. Even still, she argues, that experience showed her ability to win a large number of votes.

“Over 1.2 million Coloradans have already voted for me (in the 2016 regent’s race) and that’s actually way more than voted for Cory Gardner five years ago,” she said, citing the roughly 966,000 votes Gardner received in 2014 on his way to unseating Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. The state’s population grew significantly, by about 191,000 people from 2014 to 2016.

Madden hopes to build her fundraising base from environmental groups, teachers unions and women’s groups like the deep-pocketed EMILY’s list, an organization that has not backed her formally yet but which she is hopeful will ultimately support her candidacy. She won’t be taking any corporate money, she said.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun.)

At least two other prominent women politicians are weighing whether to get in the race. They include Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat.

A host of other women candidates, with less political experience, have also announced their candidacies. They include: Diana Bray, a clinical psychologist and climate activist; Ellen Burnes, former chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party; Lorena Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition; Stephany Rose Spaulding, who ran to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, in 2018, but lost by 18 percentage points; and Trish Zornio, a Superior scientist.

Four men who are known quantities in Colorado politics are also running: former state Sen. Mike Johnston; former Obama-era ambassador Dan Baer; former U.S. Attorney John Walsh; and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Madden most recently served as the University of Colorado law school’s executive director of Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment. She met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, before announcing her bid.

Gardner is considered a top target for Democrats in the 2020 election given Colorado’s blue-lean during the 2018 election cycle.

Updated at 8:45 a.m. on May 9, 2019: This story has been updated to correct the margin by which Alice Madden lost her 2016 race for University of Colorado regent. She lost by three percentage points.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...