Both Democrats, anxious to win back the Colorado U.S. Senate seat they lost in 2014, and Cory Gardner, the Republican winner, are moving into full re-election mode. In an interview with April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz, the lead question was who’s the top Democratic candidate?
Hickenlooper, as of today, appears to be the Democrats’ strongest contender, but he’s commitment to a presidential race and hasn’t expressed any interest in the U.S. Senate contest. A key factor will be what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recommends. Democrats believe the seat is their most likely pick up and they will spend considerable time testing the alternatives.
Democrats already have candidates in the field, including two with statewide track records. Andrew Romanoff, former State House Speaker, is back for a third time to win a congressional position. He lost a bitter interparty fight with Michael Bennet in 2010. Bennet is now in his second term. In 2014, Romanoff lost decisively a race for Congress against Mike Coffman.
Mike Johnston ran an aggressive primary campaign for governor in 2018 and raised prodigious amounts of money from out-of-state interests, especially those interested in public school reform. But, he came in third, and it’s not clear major elements of the party are any warmer toward him today.
Gardner is, of course, aware that he’s in one of the most vulnerable seats in the country and that he will be running with Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump got 43 percent in 2016, and polls at 40 percent approval or lower regularly in Colorado. Hence, Gardner must balance getting along with Trump and his hard core supporters, with shows of independence and bipartisanship needed to win moderate and especially independent-style Colorado voters.
Gardner is busy building his record of loyalty to Trump with an endorsement for a second term, while showing independence by joining five Republicans who voted for the Democratic proposal to reopen the government. Gardner, who has rapidly become part of the Republican senate leadership, still works closely with Bennet on Colorado-specific projects, such as public lands and marijuana.
Gardner’s best argument may be what put him over the top in 2014 running against Mark Udall. Colorado is most benefitted from having two effective senators, one in each party, especially the party controlling the Senate, a condition likely to continue in 2020.