DENVER – Republican state Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango is seriously considering a run for U.S. Senate, setting up a potential horse race against incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet.
With the legislative session ending last Wednesday, Roberts told The Durango Herald that she now has time to consider the massive 2016 undertaking.
“I recognize it would be a longshot,” Roberts said. “But to be in the U.S. Senate, that would be something that I am in the process of thinking about.”
She stopped short of officially announcing a run, acknowledging laws that require her to file paperwork before she makes any official announcement.
Roberts would need to survive a partisan primary, where her largely moderate-voting history would be questioned. Roberts supported legislation in 2013 that allowed gay couples to form civil unions, and she is pro-choice.
“I would expect a tough primary,” Roberts said. “Primary elections are typically more partisan. ... I tend to be more of a centrist.”
Democrats and left-leaning special interests are already lining up to attack Roberts, suggesting that she swung more to the right in this year’s split Legislature, where Republicans controlled the Senate. Roberts served in leadership as president pro tempore.
Democrats point to Roberts’ support of a bill that would have created a fetal homicide law in Colorado. Critics said the bill was tantamount to personhood. She was also beat up over her support for legislation this year that would have set rights for parents, including allowing parents to opt their children out of immunizations. Another area that saw Roberts at odds with some was over her support for legislation that would have clarified state jurisdiction over federal lands. Critics of the measure said it was a step toward conducting private sales and closures.
“In just the past three years, Ellen Roberts has voted for fetal personhood, to let businesses discriminate against the LGBT community and in favor of allowing insurance companies to deny women access to birth control,” said Andrew Zucker, spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party. “That’s a record that’s out of touch with Colorado, no matter how much favor it may gain her with GOP political insiders.”
If Roberts were to survive a primary – which is still wide open – she would be a formidable opponent to take on Sen. Michael Bennet. The U.S. Senate race last year between Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Mark Udall was dominated by talk of a “war on women.” Gardner ultimately beat Udall by walking a more middle-of-the-road campaign. Roberts would negate much of the “war on women” chatter, while also appealing to centrist voters.
“If Sen. Roberts can somehow survive the Republican firing squad and win the nomination, she would be the last candidate that Michael Bennet would want to face,” said longtime Colorado political analyst Eric Sondermann.
Gardner benefited last year from a grand bargain that cleared the primary field for him. But, Sondermann does not believe Roberts has the same profile as Gardner, making it more difficult to part the waters.
One rumor that has been circulating is that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is considering a run for U.S. Senate. In that case, Roberts could also vie for that 3rd Congressional District seat. But Roberts said she is less interested in that seat, and a spokesman for Tipton said, “Congressman Tipton is very happy to be serving Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
Observers also have been waiting to see if U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, might enter the U.S. Senate race.
No matter who the Republican candidate is, the GOP will have a tough climb in 2016, facing Bennet, a master campaigner and fundraiser, who announced raising about $2 million in the first quarter of 2015, more than a year-and-a-half before the election; Bennet has more than $2.9 million in the bank. Republicans will also face a presidential election, in which Democrat Hillary Clinton is expected to energize voters. But the GOP is hopeful.
“Regardless of who becomes the Republican nominee in the race, we are in a very strong position to defeat Senator Bennet, and that’s why Colorado remains one of the top pick-up opportunities for the GOP in 2016,” said Matt Connelly, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Roberts added of Bennet: “I think he’s a smart man, but I don’t know that he’s been as effective at causing change in Washington as I would have liked to have seen. That requires someone who is willing to stand out from their party.”