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March 07, 2019 09:48 AM MST

Let's Talk About the U.S. Senate Race!

  • by: Colorado Pols

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)

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Jefferson County)

Ed Perlmutter
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.


John Hickenlooper
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.


Crisanta Duran
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.


Trish Zornio
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.


Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston
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.


Andrew Romanoff
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.


Still Looking

Alice Madden

John Walsh
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?


Kerry Donovan
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.


Alice Madden
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.


Dan Baer
This former diplomat in the Obama administration really, really, really wants to be elected to somethingBaer 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.


Best Bets

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Aurora)

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…

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Lafayette)

…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.


29 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About the U.S. Senate Race!

    1. V — Madden obviously has got skills to be a House majority leader, be chosen to be a part of Ritter's administration, and get chosen for high visibility academic positions.

      But how can a Democrat running for a statewide Regent post lose 52-48 in a year when the statewide Presidential candidate and the Senate candidate win comfortably?


  1. Have you heard about Tom Cotton(R-AR)?

    Tom Cotton ran for the US Senate in 2014 after serving 1 year in the US House. Cotton had less political experience than Neguse when he got elected in 2014. Cotton got elected to the US Senate at the age 37 which is close to how old Neguse will be in 2020. 

    The best thing for the National and CO State Democratic Party is for Hickenlooper to dropout of the Presidential Race, he is a Longshot in winning the Democratic Nomination for President and run for the US Senate. Hickenlooper will easily win the Democratic Nomination for the US Senate and win in the November General Election without costing the DSCC and CO Democratic Party any money. Hickenlooper does not have to be in the US Senate for a full 6 year term. He can resign the day after he gets sworn in as US Senator and Governor Polis can appoint Hickenlooper's US Senate Replacement. 

    1. Well, if it's history you want, Henry Clay was 29 when he first served in the U.S. Senate.  And, yes, the Constitution sets 30 as the mini mum age.  Clay was also elected speaker of the house in his first term in the house .  Think about that, AOC.

      but Pols' boosterism aside, I need to see a little more experience from Joe the Goose before sending him to the Senate.

  2. I had the chance to meet Lorena Garcia when she met with our Morgan County Dems group last month. I found her to be very sharp, personable, knowledgeable and I liked her politics. Her website, LorenaforSenate  details her policies and story.

    Pols usually dismisses female candidates, particularly if they're young and without prior elected experience. They were wrong about Jena Griswold, and they were wrong about a host of other candidates who were part of the 2018 blue wave locally and nationally. At the Federal level, quite a few women were elected as Representatives without prior elected experience. Not to the Senate; but we have had 10 years of Michael Bennet as Senator, and he had no prior elected experience, just wealthy and powerful friends.

    Lorena's taking campaigning seriously; she's been all over NE Colorado, as has Trish Zornio.

    I liked Romanoff for Senate in 2010 and CD6 in 2014, and volunteered for him, even though he had the absolute worst campaign manager ever. I've come to find out that he was a bit of an opportunist, supporting Colorado's version of "papers please" law, and also crusading as a balanced-budget guy when we were already getting squeezed by TABOR.  He did manage to spearhead Referendum C and the BEST grants through the legislature, to ameliorate TABOR's effects somewhat.

    Romanoff, used balanced budget and muddied debt vs deficit in 2014 Congressional campaign. On immigration, Romanoff waffled on “Secure Communities”,  which was Colorado’s version of “Show me your papers” law for people. So I'm not completely sold on Romanoff for Senate. He's still got some 'splainin' to do.

    Pols, and the folks on here who detest anyone left of center, will continue to mock and demean Garcia, Zornio, and whomever's not on their preferred list. But I'd rather give my money, my energy, and my vote to someone who is consistently progressive, rather than a weathervane for whatever strong winds blow.

    1. And an activist who first trashed Hillary Clinton and then Cary Kennedy in favor of male candidates is qualified to bash Pols for being against women candidates because …

      Inquiring minds want to know.

        1. I'm very consistent – I go by how well the candidate matches the progressive policies I want to see enacted, and secondly, how well they measure up to my standards of character. Gender, ethnicity, and even electability are factors, but come in far down the line.

          Hence, I did not support Hillary in the primary, even though V is still nursing a hardon for her after all these years, because Bernie had better policies. Of course, I voted for Hillary in the general, as 90% of Bernistas did.

          I supported Joe Salazar over Phil Weiser for the same (policy) reasons.

          I don't support Crisanta Duran, even though she's progressive, because she failed my test of character by backstabbing Senator Aguilar over the health care bill. I gather the unions have similar concerns.

          I was divided between Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis in the primary, and even voted for Kennedy at the convention, but for Polis in the primary, because Cary failed my character test by being the first one to go with negative ads.

          Please don't start your own mentalist act, pretending to know what I beleive. You're even worse at it than V is, and he's driven several good writers away from this blog with his constant gaslighting.


          1. Nobody is saying you have to support women, MJ.  But you bashed Pols for not automatically supporting women when you have a consistent record of backstabbing women yourself.  It's called "Queen Bee" syndrome and really rather tiresome.

            I don't doubt you finally voted for Hillary.  But you sneered at her and whined about her for weeks after she clinched the nomination and that hurt her momentum.

            Your hypocrisy is showing, Ma'm.

            1. That wasn't at all what I wrote. I wrote specifically

              Pols usually dismisses female candidates, particularly if they're young and without prior elected experience. They were wrong about Jena Griswold, and they were wrong about a host of other candidates who were part of the 2018 blue wave locally and nationally.

              Now if you can show me a young, never elected female candidate that Pols supported or supports, I'll take that back. But you can't.

              I'll leave you to your psychological war games. You still suck at mind-reading.  Lunch is over, back on the taxpayer's dime.

                1. Hillary-ous.

                  If you'd mind your own beeswax, instead of buzzing in, stinger raging,  and then droning on every time I post a comment to a diary or am in a conversation with someone, then we'd all be a happy little hive here.



    2. Do either of these women have the money, or the ability to raise the money, to run a serious campaign?

      I too would love to see a woman take this seat away from Gardner but it needs to be someone who can raise the money needed to win a primary and general election. Like Alice Madden. Or Carrie Kennedy. 

      1. Lorena's raised ~ $7,000 so far- but she only declared a month ago. She has good name recognition in Denver, from her decades of working in nonprofit service organizations and being on the front lines for civil rights. She's also a member of the LGBT community, if that particular bit of identity politics matters to you.

        Again, I go by how well candidates measure up on policy, and Lorena Garcia measures up well. I was  also impressed with her intelligence, energy, and people skills, and the fact that she drove 100 miles to Fort Morgan on a week night to talk with a bunch of rural Democrats – which she had also done in Yuma and several other counties that week.

        If Cary Kennedy or another candidate wants to come out for the issues I care about, I'd certainly give them a hard look.

        1. She may be a fine progressive candidate with no idea of how to run a statewide campaign and no money with which to do it if she ever figured out how to run such a campaign. She would end up being a left-wing version of Daryl Glenn if she won the nomination.

          Why doesn't she start with something like a seat in the legislature and work her way up the food chain? 

  3. Yikes.  I didn’t realize how weak the Dem bench is for a clear US Senate candidate that can win statewide after Hickenlooper and Perlmutter are removed from the equation.  

    I have been very impressed with Joe Neguse’s national media interviews.  The safe nature of his district for another Dem is a clear plus for his Senate candidacy.  

    Could be Joe’s time!

  4. I'm with Andrew Romanoff.  He's an outstanding leader.  His loss to Bennet in 2010 was propelled by  7 million in $$$ from Obama, and the whole Obama OFA effort.  (Obama and Rahm Emmanuel were determined that they were not going to lose yet another senate race, where they took the irregular action of taking sides…and lost ALL of them but CO…hence the $$$, I believe.) 

    Romanoff was a great leader when he was Speaker, and actually had the support of almost all party chairs for the vacancy appointment before Ritter shocked everyone and appointed school board chair Bennet.

    This page has always dissed Romanoff, which I never understood, as Bennet has turned out to be a HUGE disappointment to progressives.  Better than any R candidate, but one whose interests are with the corporations not the people.


    1. I think Andrew was a great speaker.  But don't forget, he also lost a Congressional race to Mike Coffman.  His greatness as speaker was reflected in his fairness to all members and his centrist, Clinton/Gore policies.  He puzzled me with his later self-portraits of ultra-liberal.  

      How about Cary Kennedy?  Yes, she lost to Polis but only because he put a tidal wave of money into the campaign, about $14 million.  We've never had a woman senator.

      Alice Madden is also brilliant, but, yes, she lost her regent race.

      Face it, this race won’t be as easy as some people think, unless Hickenlooper recovers from presidential fever in time.

  5. What about Joe Salazar? Salazar is a former state representative from Adams County who ran for CO state Attorney General but lost in the Democratic Primary to Phil Weiser by a less than 1 percent margin. He is a progressive Democrat. 

    What year is Current House Speaker KC Becker is term limited? She could run.

  6. If Democrats need to nominate a female to take on Gardner-R, I will say state senator Kerry Donovan from Vail. She is a rancher and is currently in her second term as state senator.


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