Entrants into the Democratic primary to take on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner are likely to be numerous, perhaps more than double the seven entrants now announced, according to two observers of Democratic Party politics.
The reason is simple: Many seasoned party observers believe the anchor of running down ticket from President Donald Trump is so debilitating in Colorado that odds greatly favor a Democrat in the 2020 U.S. Senate race.
“Donald Trump is such a polarizing figure and so disdained in Colorado, especially by Democrats and independents, that I think it will be difficult for any Republican, even a politician as skilled as Cory Gardner, to win a statewide race,” said Irv Halter, a retired Air Force major general and Democratic candidate who opposed U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 5th U.S. Congressional District in 2014.
Casey Contres, Gardner’s campaign manager, said in an email, “The presidential election is one race, the Senate election is another one. Voters will have their opportunity to vote for their pick for president and a separate vote for the Senate. We will keep talking about Cory’s work for the region and that will be what the state decides in 2020.”
Contres said Gardner’s record on issues important to Southwest Colorado – wildfire funding, conservation of public lands and bringing broadband to rural communities – will all play a bigger role in voters’ decision-making process than the larger-than-life persona of Trump.
“... Cory’s been the leader in Congress on (these issues). Southwestern Coloradans expect their senator to deliver – and that’s what Cory is doing,” he said.
Large fieldCurrently, seven people have announced their candidacy seeking to take on Gardner: Derrick Blanton, an activist; Lorena Garcia, a community organizer; Mike Johnston, a former state senator and candidate for governor; Dustin Leitzel, a pharmacist; Keith Pottratz, a technician; Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the state House and candidate for Senate in 2010 and 6th Congressional District in 2014; and Trish Zornio, a biomedical scientist.
In addition, several well-known names, including former Gov. John Hickenlooper, and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter, have also been mentioned as potential entrants into the race.
Even with seven Democratic entrants already announced, both Halter and Curtis Hubbard, lead consultant to Hickenlooper in both his successful runs for governor, said the final field is likely to look much different than today with candidates able to announce and make the ballot as late as spring 2020.
“It’s important to remember we’re 15 months off. Candidates can get in much later,” Hubbard said. “When Cory Gardner won in 2014, he didn’t enter the race until February.”
Money chaseHalter said one drawback of having so many candidates in the race this early is the competition for dollars will be spread thin.
He suggested looking at early campaign finance documents to see who is able to raise viable amounts of cash to run competitively in a statewide race.
“My question is, where does the money come from,” he said. “I know people say money should not play a role in politics. I can tell you they have never run for elected office.”
Aside from money, there is the so-called Trump factor.
Hubbard, a partner with OnSight Public Affairs, said he was initially surprised in January by Gardner’s endorsement of Trump.
However, a poll conducted by OnSight from Jan. 20 through 24 shows Trump is viewed favorably by 86 percent of Republican women and 82 percent of Republican men, and Gardner is viewed favorably by only 56 percent of Republican women and 62 percent Republican men.
“Those numbers help explain what he was doing. He was shoring up his position to prevent a primary opponent, but at the same time, he made his job for the General Election much more difficult,” Hubbard said.
According to Hubbard’s poll, which interviewed 500 active voters and has an error margin of plus or minus 4.4 percent, Trump is viewed unfavorably by 96 percent of Democratic women, 94 percent of Democratic men, 71 percent of unaffiliated women and 60 percent of unaffiliated men.
Already, evidence from the 2018 election shows how difficult it will be for Republicans to win a statewide race with Trump at the top of the ticket, Hubbard said.
He noted Walker Stapleton embraced Trump during the 2018 gubernatorial race and was defeated by Jared Polis 53.4 percent to 43.8 percent.
An ideal candidateAn ideal candidate for the Democrats, Hubbard said, would probably be a woman.
Colorado, he said, is one of only five states that has not elected a woman to the governorship or to the U.S. Senate.
He mentioned as potential entrants former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden of Boulder and State Sen. Kerry Donovan of Edwards as potential entrants who would bring both name recognition and party support.
Hubbard said Hickenlooper has described himself as more of a “CEO type” than a legislator in choosing to launch a presidential campaign rather than running for U.S. Senate.
“Looking down the road, if Democrats felt nationally we hadn’t found a quality candidate – and I think there are already a lot of quality candidates in the race – I think there would be pressure on Hickenlooper to revisit entering the race,” he said.
Garcia, who led Namlo International, a nonprofit that works in Nepal and Nicaragua, was the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for U.S. Senate in November 2018.
She said the main reasons she announced so early was to begin raising money for a competitive run and to increase her name recognition.
But even Garcia said she is convinced the field of entrants into the primary will grow.
“I imagine there will be a lot of candidates,” she said. “I don’t believe the seven of us in now will be the last to join.”