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Politics and Government

Trish Zornio, a U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado who warned about pandemic threats, exits race

The 34-year-old researcher who studied undiagnosed diseases suspended her campaign before the Democratic state assembly Saturday

Trish Zornio, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, suspended her campaign before the state Democratic Party assembly. (Provided by Trish Zornio)
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Months ago — well before the coronavirus surfaced in China — a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado warned on the campaign trail about the looming biological threats, like a global pandemic.

Trish Zornio’s remarks didn’t register with voters at the time. “Those weren’t necessarily the messages that were resonating,” the 34-year-old scientist from Superior said. 

The voters who heard her campaign across the state — talking about the importance of science and addressing future threats — were more concerned about the economy and other immediate issues, she said. Now, as COVID-19 spreads across Colorado and the globe, voters are recalling her words. She’s the only candidate who issued a pandemic policy plan.

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“This is a really unfortunate silver lining, in that, I wish it didn’t take something like COVID to elucidate the message we are talking about,” Zornio said in an interview earlier this week. “I think people are starting to realize why a medical and health care background is extremely relevant. But I take no pleasure in the fact that message is resonating.”

On Wednesday, she decided to suspend her campaign. On Twitter, she thanked her supporters and said her campaign “laid the groundwork for the next generation of women and scientists in (government).”

MORE: How the coronavirus snuffed the primary for U.S. Senate and cemented Hickenlooper as the front-runner

Before her bid, Zornio worked as a translational scientist with researchers and health care teams as part of a National Institutes of Health research project about undiagnosed diseases. But the new attention on her campaign and relevant background may come too late to make a difference. 

To make the Democratic primary ballot, she needed to get support from 30% of the delegates voting at the Democratic Party’s virtual assembly Saturday. But the vast majority of the activists participating are pledged to another candidate — Andrew Romanoff, the former state House speaker who is expected to run away with the vote.

Ironically, the pandemic hit at a crucial moment in the race and stifled her campaign. For months, Zornio and other candidates seeking to qualify at the assembly recruited supporters to attend the March 7 caucuses and serve as delegates. But she said hundreds of supporters told her they didn’t attend because they didn’t want to risk their health. 

Democratic primary front-runner John Hickenlooper qualified for the ballot with voter signatures and released his delegates, opening a path for Zornio and the other lesser-known candidates, but the virtual county and state assemblies made it harder to win support. 

The process was plagued with problems. Zornio said she wasn’t provided with information about the delegates to the state assembly, so she can’t call and ask for support. “It was a hard battle before, and I think being grounded it is going to be pretty unlikely” to make the ballot, she said days before exiting the race.

MORE: What the Colorado campaign trail looks like in the age of coronavirus, and what it means for the election

Moreover, Zornio believes “this isn’t the time to be campaigning” and turned her attention to using social media to amplify public health advisories about the COVID-19 disease. In a video she filmed for Democratic delegates from isolation in her home, she sounded demoralized that her warnings came to fruition.

“I got into this race to champion science and health care,” she said. “ … I specifically knew there were a lot of weaknesses we had in our policymaking at the federal level that was going to be problematic and COVID-19, unfortunately, has worked to systematically expose a vast majority of these policies that were weak.”