Six days before an unexpectedly vigorous Democratic U.S. Senate primary comes to an end next Tuesday, a hard-hitting story for underdog challenger Andrew Romanoff from the Colorado Sun today recounts in detail the problem we’ve been talking about in this space for months now: although Romanoff’s campaign in 2020 has run hard to the left of the presumed nominee Gov. John Hickenlooper, his long record stretching back to the early 2000s reveals that Romanoff has for most of his career been a considerably more conservative lawmaker than Hickenlooper was a governor:
“You can say his views have changed and evolved, and whether it’s convenient to do it in that particular circumstance is a big question,” [Pols emphasis] said Jim Carpenter, a former chief of staff in Democratic Gov. Roy Romer’s office where Romanoff worked.
In the 1990s, Romanoff epitomized the centrist movement within the Democratic Party, serving as adviser to the Democratic Leadership Council and co-chairman of the Colorado affiliate. The organization, aligned with former President Bill Clinton, called for the national party to “expand opportunity, not government” and policies “punishing criminals instead of explaining their behavior.”
As a state lawmaker for eight years starting in 2001, Romanoff charted a pragmatic political course working with business interests to deliver on legislation and even touted passage of a bill he called the “toughest illegal immigration package in the nation.”
For those of us who have been following Colorado politics for the two decades required to have been present for Romanoff’s time in office, the decidedly non-“progressive champion” elements of his long record are well known. But we’re willing to bet that the trending younger self-identified progressive voters backing Romanoff are not aware that he was once a leader of the much-reviled Democratic Leadership Council, widely blamed by the party’s left wing for “selling out” the Democratic Party during the Clinton years.
“In a brief interview, Romanoff acknowledged the shift in political direction. Asked if he once considered himself a moderate, he replied: “‘On some issues, I suppose.'”
— The Colorado Sun (6/24/20)
Some of the more problematic moments in Romanoff’s past, like the 2006 anti-immigrant special session which passed crackdown bills into law that were later repealed by Gov. Hickenlooper, have received plenty of coverage. But another resolution supported by Romanoff back in 2003 as America went to war in Iraq highlighted in this story is making fresh waves nationally today:
#COSen is fascinating bc it’s the only race I can think of where the progressive insurgent objectively has a more conservative record than the establishment candidate – thanks to timing. Romanoff was out of office by 2011, Hickenlooper presided over the liberal resurgence.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 24, 2020
That Romanoff was one of only seven Democrats in the Colorado House to join all 35 Republicans in passing a resolution in support of the Iraq War blows a gaping hole in his “progressive champion” image, and it’s something that even the most disgruntled lefty Intercept reader can’t ignore. When you combine this with Romanoff’s willing agency in cracking down on undocumented immigrants back when that was fashionable policy, it’s much more difficult to defend Romanoff’s shrill attacks on Hickenlooper’s left flank.
And the list goes on beyond what’s cited in this story. In 2014, Andrew Romanoff swore off support for single-payer health care while running against Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman, saying “I don’t think we can afford to disrupt the country now.” That same year, Romanoff joined with Hickenlooper to oppose ballot measures to regulate the oil and gas industry backed by now-Gov. Jared Polis.
None of these historical points of fact are presented here to cover for John Hickenlooper’s very well known record on energy development, or his consistent and often painfully awkward triangulation off of tainted buzzwords like “socialism”–both problems we’ve criticized in this space that instinctively repel many Democratic primary voters. Hickenlooper’s blind spots and message stumbles have obscured for many Democratic primary voters a record that overall trends quite progressive on issues from gun safety to expanding access to health care.
The point that we have made in this space is that Romanoff’s actual record is in no substantive way more progressive than Hickenlooper’s, and that his attempted distinction from Hickenlooper in this regard is destructive and misleading. That being the case, Democratic primary voters need to consider every other metric in this race, from fundraising to name recognition to the clear result in polling matchups, that shows Hickenlooper is the candidate with the better capacity to take on Cory Gardner–in a race crucial to Democratic hopes of retaking the U.S. Senate. Republicans know this very well, and that explains their extraordinary spending to intervene in the Democratic primary.
This has been our read of this race from the moment Hickenlooper entered it, and unlike Andrew Romanoff’s platform, it has not changed. This is a story should have come out weeks ago, and it helps explain the rally of support to Hickenlooper from top progressive Democratic leaders like Sen. Elizabeth Warren in recent days.
Now it’s up to Democratic voters to show what they’re paying attention to.