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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, greets voters after an event in northeast Denver on Dec. 6, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination focuses on the big issues: health care, education, climate change — and who is best positioned to take on President Donald Trump in November.

Ahead of the March 3 primary, Colorado voters also will weigh the candidates’ views on the issues that are uniquely important here: public lands, fracking and what to do about a modern economy that is leaving swaths of rural America behind.

A Colorado Sun survey of the top candidates found strong differences on a number of key Western issues, from how they would approach the oil and gas industry to their vision for wildlife and America’s publicly owned parks. And several of them lack detailed plans to tackle critical regional problems, such as wildfires and the management of the Colorado River.

Three candidates — Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — did not respond to The Sun’s questions. But in cases where they have spoken publicly about an issue, their responses are included.

Here’s where the candidates stand on three key Colorado issues. Find the entire 2020 Democratic issue guide here.

On fracking and fossil fuels…

Warren and Sanders have taken the strongest stance against hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, advocating for an outright ban on the technique. Steyer, who has backed anti-fracking campaigns in the past, wants to eliminate the practice, but only after a phase-out period that would invest $50 billion in programs for displaced workers. Similarly, Buttigieg wants to halt new fracking permits, and phase out existing operations.

The other three candidates have adopted a more moderate stance. Biden opposes a fracking ban, while Klobuchar and Bloomberg have said they see natural gas as a transition fuel that is helping wean the country off coal.

Still, there’s widespread agreement on a few other issues. The candidates back methane rules that seek to limit emissions from the extraction process, and all but Bloomberg oppose new drilling on public lands. The former New York mayor instead proposes a temporary moratorium until there are new rules in place aimed at reducing emissions and increasing the fees and royalty payments owed by fossil fuel companies.

MORE: Colorado’s 2020 presidential primary ballots are hitting the mail. Here’s what you need to know.

On public lands and the BLM relocation…

Each of the candidates that responded to The Sun — Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren — oppose a Trump administration plan to relocate the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Grand Junction. This puts them at odds with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who has praised the move, touting the dozens of jobs it will bring to the Western Slope.

Sanders and Steyer say they would overturn the decision and return the agency in D.C. Steyer said the move “reduces transparency, and risks allowing mining and fossil fuel interests to exert more influence over the BLM’s decision-making.” But while they oppose the Colorado headquarters, neither Warren nor Bloomberg said whether they would reverse it. Warren favors devoting more on the ground resources to Western states, but didn’t say what that would look like in practice.

All the candidates who responded to The Sun support efforts to expand access to public lands for things like recreation and outdoor sporting. Warren and Steyer also want to make national parks admission free, to ensure poverty isn’t a barrier to access.

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On marijuana…

All seven top-tier candidates support at least decriminalizing marijuana. And only Biden and Bloomberg do not outright support legalization. Bloomberg now says he wants to leave the matter up to the states, but he has repeatedly criticized the legalization movement in the past. His campaign says “the science on marijuana urges a ‘go slow’ approach until there is better medical evidence of its health effects.”

Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Steyer, Warren and Sanders support vacating past marijuana convictions. Most of the candidates also support efforts to make it easier for marijuana businesses to access financial services. Warren, Sanders and Klobuchar are co-sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act, and Steyer has expressed support. It’s not clear where Bloomberg, Biden and Buttigieg stand on the legislation, but the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has said that the status quo isn’t working.

John Frank

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.

Brian Eason

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @brianeason