Mike Littwn: Big day in Colorado for the Hick effect and power of incumbency
Fair and Unbalanced
There were a couple of major stories in Colorado Democratic politics Friday and in both cases, old-school Dems easily won the day. They left me wondering just how strong the progressive movement is in Colorado. Even Jared Polis, who ran for governor as a bold progressive, has somehow become not quite so bold and not quite so progressive as governor. Go figure.
We’ll begin with the Hickenlooper effect, which plays a key role in one big part of the story Friday. In the U.S. Senate primary, Alice Madden, former state House majority leader and also a prominent voice in the climate change debate, became the fourth leading candidate to drop out of the race since John Hickenlooper got in. Let’s just say that’s not a coincidence.
As Madden put it, “doors started to close” when Hick entered the race and so did “a realistic path” to the nomination. Now she’s facing surgery for growth on an ovary — all the blood work looks good, she says — and decided it was time to make the move. According to the conventional wisdom — which is occasionally correct — that leaves Andrew Romanoff as Hickenlooper’s main competition. And Madden said she worried that if she stayed in the race that she and Romanoff would split the progressive vote. Madden’s departure also could give a boost to state Sen. Angela Williams.
Meanwhile, in the other big news, former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran, who inexplicably decided to primary longtime incumbent Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District, announced she was dropping out of her race just a few weeks after Duran had undergone emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.
In the pre-Hickenlooper-as-Senate-candidate days, Duran had been widely expected to enter the Senate primary and caught nearly everyone by surprise in deciding to take on DeGette instead. Among the surprised was DeGette. Duran said she would run against DeGette from the left, despite the fact that their politics to that point had seemed quite similar. It was either a bold move, or a misguided one, apparently modeled on the House upset pulled off by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — known to all as AOC — in New York’s 14th CD.
But as Eli Stokols of The Los Angeles Times reported, the first thing DeGette did when Duran announced was to call AOC to ask whether she planned to endorse Duran. AOC never did, and the AOC-style magic never made its way to Colorado. And so the disaster many had predicted for Duran arrived early. It seems that Duran, as I may have written at the time, is not exactly AOC and Denver is not exactly New York City.
And Colorado is apparently not Iowa and not New Hampshire. When Hickenlooper dropped out of the presidential race, having left virtually no mark, he soon announced that he would run in the Senate primary, looking to take on Cory Gardner. This would not have been at all surprising — national Democrats had been pushing him in that direction for more than a year — except that Hick had spent many months saying he wasn’t interested in being a senator and didn’t, in fact, think he was “cut out” for the job.
This should serve as a good reminder never to trust any politician when he/she says there are no plans to run for another office. In the presidential race, Hick had tried to place himself as a moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, particularly on Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, but never gained any traction. Iowans seemed unimpressed by Hickenlooper’s record in Colorado, which state progressives found to be just slightly embellished in any case.
A Colorado race, though, is an entirely different matter. Hick is the two-term Denver mayor and two-term governor with high approval ratings, a strong financial network and name recognition in the state that only John Elway could challenge. It had become pretty clear of late, particularly after her recent comments to The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, that Madden didn’t see a path to victory.
Before Hickenlooper arrived, she had seen that path, running as a woman in a state that has never elected one as governor or senator. She also saw the hope of taking on Gardner, who is generally seen as the most vulnerable Republican running for re-election, given that Donald Trump, also running for re-election, is 15 points or so underwater in Colorado. In the latest Fox News poll, 51% said Trump should be impeached and then removed.
You’ve probably seen the viral clip of Gardner — courtesy of Fox31’s Joe St. George — in which he repeatedly refused to answer the straightforward question posed by a series of reporters as to whether it’s appropriate for a president to ask a foreign country to dig up dirt on a political rival. Oh yeah, he’s vulnerable. Or as James Carville told Brian Williams after watching the clip, “That poor guy. I don’t think he’s vulnerable. I think he’s done. He oughta get out of the race.”
“I think Cory can be beaten by a blue rock,” Madden told me, “but I’m a realist, too.”
There’s a lot of realism going on in the Senate primary. Mike Johnston, who finished third in the primary for governor, dropped out of the race not long after Hickenlooper announced, saying he couldn’t answer the why-not-Hickenlooper question. He also couldn’t risk losing another high-profile statewide primary. Dan Baer and John Walsh, both considered to be legitimate contenders, dropped out soon after Johnston and both endorsed Hickenlooper.
Madden is the latest and she said she is not endorsing anyone yet. And so it goes in October 2019, which, you might notice, is still 13 long, long months from Election Day in 2020.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.