Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is among the most endangered Republican incumbents in the country. We know this because hardly a week goes by without some news outlet mentioning his vulnerability in 2020. While the 2020 election is still 607 days away (as of today), we’re less than a year out from the party caucuses in Colorado, which means the clock is ticking as potential candidates jockey for position in 2019.
Gardner officially kicked off his Senate re-election campaign last month with a high-dollar fundraiser in Washington D.C., but he has yet to announce any sort of campaign launch in Colorado. We’re still not convinced that Gardner will ultimately be on the ballot in November 2020; sharing a slate with Donald Trump is going to be rough for any Republican, particularly in a state like Colorado where Democrats ran roughshod over Republicans in 2018.
Gardner is not the kind of politician who joins a fight he isn’t confident about winning, and his polling numbers have been in the toilet for several years now. His increasingly-close embrace of Trump – Gardner was one of the first big Republican names to endorse Trump’s re-election — won’t help him in a state carried by Hillary Clintonin 2016. His strange waffling on Trump’s “emergency declaration” for border wall money suggests that he’s also worried about a potential Republican Primary.
But enough speculation about Gardner for now. He’s still the incumbent and he says he’s running for re-election, so let’s focus instead on the Democratic side of the aisle, where the likely 2020 nominee isn’t even a candidate yet…
Out of the Race (For Now)
The longtime Jefferson County Congressman had acknowledged an interest in the 2020 Senate race but seemed to shut the door on Thursday in an interview with the Denver Post. “No, I’m not thinking about it,” said Perlmutter. “I’m enjoying being in the majority and the ability, from that perspective, to represent my constituents. I’m not going to worry about any of that (Senate) stuff for some time.”
Perlmutter was briefly a candidate for Governor in 2017 but had second thoughts about the rigors of a statewide race and backed out a few weeks later. Perlmutter decided to run for re-election in CO-7 and had no trouble winning in 2018; he won’t have to sweat re-election until redistricting in 2021, and even then he’s probably be safe. It’s not out of the question that Perlmutter could still be a Senate candidate if the Democratic field remains unsettled a year from now, though that’s probably unlikely.
As you may have heard, the former Colorado Governor is running for President in 2020 and has made it clear that he isn’t interested in serving in the U.S. Senate. Hick could still end up as a Senate candidate should his Presidential campaign sputter out, but as with Perlmutter, that likely only happens if the Democratic field is still in flux at the end of this year.
The former State House Speaker will challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette in 2020 rather than seek statewide office. Duran had been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate, so her CO-1 decision had some observers scratching their melons, but rumors about this potential matchup had been swirling for weeks. It was an open secret among some Democrats that Duran was having difficulty generating enthusiasm for a potential Senate bid. Yes, Duran is a former House Speaker, but she also represented a completely-safe Democratic House district that didn’t require much effort to hold onto after she won a Democratic Primary in 2010. There were very real questions about Duran’s ability to translate her Denver success into a statewide race, and Duran didn’t have particularly strong answers to those queries.
In the Race (For Now)
Lorena Garcia & Danielle Kombo
It is unlikely that Garcia and Kombo will still even be candidates when we get closer to the June 2020 Democratic Primary; both are relative unknowns who won’t have the resources and the support to build campaigns with any real chance of winning.
Zornio is a newcomer to Colorado politics who has essentially been running for this seat since 2017 yet hasn’t been able to generate any serious interest. She may stick it out for awhile, it’s hard to see how she even gets her name on the ballot for the June 2020 Primary.
Johnston is fresh off a third-place finish in the 2018 Gubernatorial Primary – an outcome that may have marked his political ceiling in the Democratic Party. Johnston demonstrated a strong ability to raise money in the race for Governor but wasn’t able to translate those funds into votes; it is telling that his presence in the Senate field has not dissuaded other potential candidates from considering a run. There’s not a lot of buzz about Johnston at the moment.
The former State House Speaker sought the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2010 and was beaten soundly by Michael Bennet. When last we saw Romanoff as a candidate in 2014, he was getting drubbed by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in CO-6. Romanoff would probably make a great Senator, but his losses in 2010 and 2014 don’t inspire a lot of confidence in his ability as a candidate. Like Johnston, Romanoff’s candidacy isn’t discouraging other potential candidates from running.
The former U.S. Attorney for Colorado has long been rumored to be interested in the 2020 Senate race, though he doesn’t appear to be moving toward a formal campaign anytime soon. Walsh might have missed his opportunity with Johnston and Romanoff already declared candidates – does this field really have room for a third white dude from Denver?
Donovan says she is considering the race, but the State Senator from Vail has been busy with the legislative session and hasn’t taken any tangible steps toward running.
Madden is a former State House Majority Leader who also served as climate advisor and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bill Ritter; she is currently the executive director of something with a really long title at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Madden could be an interesting candidate if she can convince supporters to overlook her 2016 loss as a statewide candidate for CU Regent.
This former diplomat in the Obama administration really, really, really wants to be elected to something. Baer didn’t exactly endear himself to Democrats with his brief run for Congress last cycle but is apparently trying to get his name in the mix for Senate. When Perlmutter was considering retirement in 2017, Baer emerged out of nowhere as a candidate in CO-7 (he literally threw his name in the ring just months after moving back to Colorado for the first time in a decade). Baer’s odd reluctance to get out of the race after Perlmutter changed his mind on retirement didn’t earn him many fans among Democrats. He’d be more of a nuisance than a contender in 2020.
Two of Colorado’s most recent U.S. Senate winners (Gardner and Democrat Mark Udall) were sitting Members of Congress at the time of their election. You can scratch off Perlmutter and DeGette from the list of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, so if we follow that thread it leaves only two names: first year Reps. Jason Crow and Joe Neguse.
Both Crow and Neguse are compelling candidates with attractive resumes who would move to the top of the pack if they were to run for Senate. Crow and Neguse are also good friends who room together in Washington D.C., so there’s virtually no chance that they would run against each other in a Democratic Primary.
Crow is a former Army Ranger with a photogenic young family, which proved to be a strong combination when he defeated longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman last November. Ironically, Crow’s better-than-expected performance in 2018 might make him less likely to run for U.S. Senate in 2020. It had long been presumed that any Democrat who could beat Coffman would be in for an even tougher re-election battle two years later – a scenario that might have made running for higher office a more prudent decision than a bruising re-election campaign. But when Crow defeated Coffman by 11 points (54-43) that dynamic changed. Crow’s big win, combined with Democrats’ tremendous gains in 2018, should give pause to any top-tier Republicans who might have been considering a run in 2020 and gives Crow room to exhale as he considers his political future…
…Which brings us to Neguse. The Lafayette Democrat has been earning rave bipartisan reviews in his first months in office. As Ernest Luning wrote in February for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, Neguse’s star is on the rise:
…some Democrats are wondering if the time is ripe for another junior member of the congressional delegation — a rising star who gives Gardner a run for his money in the anthropomorphic sunshine department — to make a run for the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who won the 2nd Congressional District seat in November, has been dazzling progressives on the national stage since before he was sworn in. He’s also made a habit of impressing political opponents…
…none other than U.S. Rep. Ken Buck — a Republican who sits about as far as possible on the political spectrum from Neguse — sang Neguse’s praises in a recent radio interview, comparing the Democrat to Gardner and invoking his Republican colleague’s nickname.
Saying he was “thoroughly impressed” with Neguse, Buck said in a KNUS interview flagged by the Colorado Times Recorder: “Joe is a, just a — he’s a Cory Gardner. He is a ray of sunshine. He just has this bubbly personality.”
Acknowledging that they disagree politically, Buck added, “He’s exactly the kind of person that you want to see in politics.”
Neguse is one of the leaders of the freshman class in the House of Representatives and has taken on some prominent roles in Congress that will raise his name ID one way or the other. He would be safe in his current seat (CO-2) for the foreseeable future, but Neguse also has the resume to make a Senate bid in 2020. He has run for statewide office before — in 2014 Neguse ran for Secretary of State and lost to Republican Wayne Williams by a two-point margin (47-45) – and he also has executive experience after serving as the Director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies during Hickenlooper’s administration.
Oh, and there’s this: The Colorado Democratic Party holds its annual “Obama Dinner” on Saturday, where Neguse will be named “Democrat of the Year.”
Both Crow and Neguse are only a couple of months into their first term in Congress, which doesn’t make the timing ideal for a statewide run. Nevertheless, either candidate would instantly become the Democratic frontrunner if they entered the race. Of the two, Neguse is probably in a better position to make a Senate run in 2020. Republicans can read the same tea leaves, which is why they already have trackers showing up whenever Neguse appears in public.
And as we noted in The Big Line, it’s hard to come up with a good argument against a Neguse campaign for Senate.
So, there you have it. A lot can, and probably will change in the next couple of months, but this is how we see it as of March 2019.