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Politics and Government

Angela Williams exits U.S. Senate race, faces fractious primary challenge in reelection to her statehouse seat

State Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, announced a bid on Nov. 18 for Williams’ state Senate District 33 seat. He’s been endorsed by a number of fellow Democrats in the Colorado legislature

State Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, speaks to a reporter at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Democrat Angela Williams announced Wednesday that she is abandoning her U.S. Senate bid, opting instead to seek reelection to her state Senate seat in what’s gearing up to be a fractious statehouse primary contest that’s already splitting state lawmakers. 

“After a period of soul searching and reflection with family, I have decided to suspend my campaign for U.S. Senate,” Williams wrote in a news release announcing her decision. “… I am disappointed, but I am undeterred.  I remain committed to my fight to give Colorado’s women, people of color, and the underserved a voice.  It is clear to me now that there is more work that needs to be done right here in Colorado.” 

Williams represents state Senate District 33 in Denver and had not ruled out the possibility of running for reelection to the post even as she sought the Democratic nomination in Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

But state Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, on Nov. 18 announced he would be running for her seat, meaning that in order to return to the legislature Williams will face a primary challenge from a well-established politician and former political ally. 

Both Williams and Coleman are members of the legislature’s black caucus. 

Coleman’s decision raised eyebrows. But political observers were even more shocked when he rolled out a list of endorsements from other statehouse Democrats that included House Speaker KC Becker, and state Sens. Jessie Danielson, Kerry Donovan and Jeff Bridges.

Even state Reps. Janet Buckner and Leslie Herod, two other Democratic members of the legislature’s black caucus, are backing Coleman’s run.

Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, in the Colorado House on April 30, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Williams told The Colorado Sun she was blindsided by Coleman’s decision to run for her seat earlier this month. “I knew nothing about this announcement.”

On Wednesday, Williams said she was prepared to battle for reelection to the legislature.

“I will be filing my paperwork in the next several days to seek re-election to Colorado Senate District 33,” Williams said in her statement. “I will match my record, with nearly a decade of service fighting for my community, workers, women, the environment and small businesses against anyone.  I look forward to a spirited campaign and to continuing to serve as state senator for the next four years.”

When Williams returns for the 2020 legislative session in January, she will be working alongside Danielson, Donovan and Bridges, as well as the House members who have endorsed Coleman. It’s possible that the split will increase tensions in what last year was an often divided Democratic Senate caucus

Williams’ U.S. Senate campaign struggled to gain traction in the 9-candidate primary field.

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

She entered the race in July, hoping to build on her reputation in the legislature as a moderate, pro-business Democrat. But her campaign failed to keep fundraising pace with the presumptive front runners, bringing in about $110,000 between July 1 and the end of September. 

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, by comparison, hauled in $2.1 million during that same span. Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, meanwhile, raised $430,000 in contributions in the same period

Williams said she knew her campaign needed “to show growth at the end of the year for us to endure,” but that she had planned to wait until March to decide whether to leave the U.S. Senate race to seek another statehouse term.

In leaving the U.S. Senate contest, Williams said she is “heartened to see so many female candidates still in this race.” 

“As you know, Colorado has never sent a woman to the United States Senate,” she said. “And Colorado has never sent a woman of color to Washington.  I remain firm in my belief that that needs to change.”

She took a dig at Hickenlooper’s campaign, which has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, on her way out. The DSCC is the U.S. Senate Democrats deep-pocketed campaign arm and they have faced criticism from Romanoff and Williams for getting involved so early in the Colorado contest.

“Unfortunately, even now, as female candidates enjoy a historic level of support from voters, there are still elements of the Democratic Party seeking to promote male candidates at the expense of talented and smart progressive women,” Williams said. “Fighting to give women, people of color, and the underserved a voice isn’t always easy, especially when faced with strong headwinds from Washington D.C.”

Also this week, Democrat Bernard Douthit, who made a failed run for Colorado treasurer in 2018, announced his bid for Coleman’s state House seat.