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Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper turns in his signatures to secure his spot in the 2020 U.S. Senate Democratic primary on Feb. 19, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

John Hickenlooper on Wednesday likely secured his spot on Colorado’s 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary ballot, turning in thousands of signatures — about a month earlier than necessary — to ensure he is part of the June election. 

But the two-term former governor still faces a test in the form of the the state’s caucuses next month, an alternate ballot-access process, where he is trying to gain enough support from the Democratic base to fend off rival candidates.

Hickenlooper needed to turn in 1,500 signatures collected from registered voters in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office by March 17 to qualify for the ballot. 

His campaign on Wednesday said it submitted over 2,000 signatures from each congressional district to give it enough cushion to ensure he qualifies. Hickenlooper’s staffers boasted that they collected the signatures earlier than campaigns traditionally do.

“This is such a big step to go out and get thousands of signatures from all across the state,” Hickenlooper told reporters. “People are fired up.”

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The expensive petition process — candidates can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on signature gathering — is an insurance policy in the event he doesn’t muster enough party support at the caucuses. 

He will be competing at the caucuses with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, university professor Stephany Rose Spaulding and scientist and political newcomer Trish Zornio. 

There’s strategy involved in going both routes. If Hickenlooper gathers enough share of the delegates, he can deny other candidates access to the ballot

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper turns in his signatures to secure his spot in the 2020 U.S. Senate Democratic primary on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Candidates need 30% of delegates’ support at the Democratic state convention in April to qualify for the ballot. They reach that level starting by wooing local precinct caucus goers, who gather at sites across the state on March 7. 

Asked Wednesday about whether he will reach that 30% level at the state convention on April 18, Hickenlooper said his attention is focused elsewhere.

“I don’t know,” Hickenlooper said. “We are worried about the signatures first. Talk to me about the caucuses next week.”

If Hickenlooper gets less than 10% of the delegates at the state convention, he would be disqualified from the ballot, even if the signatures he turned in on Wednesday are sufficient. He can also abandon his caucus bid between the precinct caucuses and the state convention, however, if it looks like he might not have enough support. 

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office will go through and validate or toss out his signatures in the coming days to determine if he has enough to qualify. 

Hickenlooper is the first Democratic candidate to turn in their signatures to get on the Senate primary ballot. It’s a show of strength and his campaign’s deep financial war chest.

But Colorado has had a history of problems of candidates qualifying through signatures.

In 2018, Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s campaign was nearly derailed because of problems with his signatures. He eventually made the ballot through the caucus and convention process, but the issues led to a lawsuit and questions about how candidates petition onto the ballot in Colorado.

One big advantage of turning in the signatures early: It will make it harder for other candidates to qualify for the ballot because voters can only sign a petition for one candidate. 

Other Democratic primary candidates seeking to get on the ballot through the signature route include community organizer Lorena Garcia, climate activist Diana Bray and immigration activist Michelle Ferrigno Warren.

Whomever is chosen as the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee with face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the November general election.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....