Senate hopefuls focus on Gardner, not Hickenlooper, in Aspen |

Senate hopefuls focus on Gardner, not Hickenlooper, in Aspen

Nearly 200 people attended the Pitkin County Democrats' annual dinner Thursday at T-Lazy-7 Ranch, where seven primary candidates made their pitches the same day John Hickenlooper announced his candidacy. Hickenlooper did not attend the event.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

John Hickenlooper was not among the Senate candidates at the Pitkin County Democrats dinner event Thursday, but there was little doubt his presence was felt at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch venue.

The former Colorado governor and Denver mayor announced Thursday his entrance into the 2020 Democratic primary field for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, shaking up a campaign where seven of the 13 declared candidates spoke at the local Democrats’ annual affair.

A press advisory from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, seizing the opportunity to pounce on Hickenlooper’s comments in February that he wasn’t senator material, declared that “Tonight in Aspen, Colorado Senate Democrats to Trash Hickenlooper.”

Yet despite Hickenlooper’s popularity in Colorado, none of the candidates were ready to deliver any concession speeches just yet.

“John’s decision doesn’t change mine,” said Andrew Romanoff, who was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009, before he took the podium.

Howard Wallach, chair of the Pitkin County Democrats, said, “I think they will welcome his candidacy.”

The candidates didn’t throw any barbs at the now prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, yet some of them did call for fresh voices outside of the established order of Colorado Democrats.

Some humor also was on the menu.

“Obviously today is going exactly as we planned,” said candidate Dan Baer, who under the Obama administration was an ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “Everything is great.”

Hickenlooper’s name surfaced here and there during the dinner, but the candidates’ dissatisfaction with Washington was aimed at Gardner, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Among the common themes espoused were regaining control of the Senate, taking on climate change, dismantling white nationalism and providing health care to all Americans.

“The important thing is to beat Cory Gardner and to beat Donald Trump,” said candidate Alice Madden, former Colorado State representative and House majority leader.

Gardner is a first-term senator from Yuma who has aligned with Trump on a number of issues. Like Trump, he also has said the Democrats’ chief objective is to inject socialism into American politics.

Colorado is considered one of the battleground states for the Senate due in part to Gardner’s purported vulnerability in the 2020 election.

“Every poll tells us that a potato can take out Cory Gardner,” candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding said.

Other Senate primary candidates who spoke included Vail native Michael C. Johnston, who served as a state senator from 2009 to 2017; John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado; and Lorena Garcia, a late addition to the lineup.

They, too, took aim at Gardner.

“This is a situation where failure is not an option,” Walsh said. “We must defeat Donald Trump first and foremost, and we have to defeat Cory Gardner and send him back to Yuma.”

Last week the centrist Hickenlooper dropped out of the presidential Democratic primaries because of his poor showing so far in the crowded field; his declaration for a Senate run was expected, though there had been some rumblings he could be holding out for a vice presidential invitation or other political opportunities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office also sent out a media advisory about Hickenlooper’s Senate run, saying Gardner’s seat “is critical to holding on to our Republican Senate majority and delivering on our promises to the American people.”

Pitkin County Republican Chairman Bob Jenkins said it is too early to say how Hickenlooper’s campaign will shape Gardner’s bid.

“The fact that Hickenlooper said that he wasn’t going to run for Senate certainly opened the window up for other people who are running,” he said. “That’s an important thing and it was the fact that he said he didn’t want to be a senator is what got all the other legitimate candidates to run, and now he expects them all to step aside.”