DENVER (CN) — Colorado swing voters will help decide on Tuesday which Democratic candidates to pit against incumbent conservatives backed by President Donald Trump in November.
The state’s former Governor John Hickenlooper and former Speaker of the State House Andrew Romanoff are both vying to turn up the heat on Republican Senator Cory Gardner.
Although the state leaned left in recent elections, Democrats do not hold a majority in the Centennial State.
“What’s interesting about Colorado is that the plurality of the vote is unaffiliated, so the outcome of the election will be determined less by the base on either side,” said Ken Bickers, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Unaffiliated voters are unaffiliated, so they’ll be making up their minds not principally based on the party label, but on other kinds of factors.”
Those factors include stances on health care, gun control and police reform.
The state’s 1.3 million unaffiliated registered voters can’t caucus, but they do participate in state primaries. Colorado is also home to more than a million Democrats and 969,495 registered Republicans.
For “Any-Dem-Will-Do Blues,” Gardner is an easy target to aim for. Within the party however, many Democrats are divided on whether to put forward put centrist Hickenlooper or progressive Romanoff.
Although generally liked and supported by the Democratic National Committee, Hickenlooper’s Senate campaign hit hiccup after hiccup. On June 5, the Colorado Ethics Commission fined Hickenlooper $2,750 for accepting free travel during his last months in office. Then more recently, a 2014 comment he made likening politicians to slaves on a ship resurfaced.
“Hickenlooper’s made some awkward statements, he said a number of things he’s needed to apologize for particularly about Black Lives Matter and an awkward early slavery reference,” said Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. “These aren’t necessarily terribly costly things when it comes down to elections, but you could also see a number of progressives saying, ‘Why do I need to tolerate this right now when I have another option.’”
Many of Hickenlooper’s policy stances like opposing “Medicare for All” — which Romanoff backs — and supporting fracking — which Romanoff opposes — are being tested by the energized progressive wing of the party.
“There’s some evidence that we have an energized left at the moment and they are looking to Romanoff,” Masket said. “Hickenlooper has a lot of important advantages going into this, but judging from his behavior and judging from Romanoff’s behavior, is this is likely a reasonably competitive primary.”
Many Republicans hope the debate among Democrats will put the Working Party at a disadvantage against a GOP unified around Gardner in the general election.
“We’re going to be unified coming out of the primary and that’s going to help us going into November,” said Kyle Kohli, Colorado Communications Director for the Republican National Committee. “Contrast that with what’s going on in the Democratic primary with Romanoff and Hickenlooper, which is really devolving into a big fight.”
Whichever Democrat comes out on top come Tuesday, Kohli pointed out, Gardner is still ahead by campaign budget.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Hickenlooper’s campaign raised $12 million, of which it spent about half. Gardner raised $15 million, of which he spent $6 million. Trailing behind, Romanoff raised $2.8 million and spent $2 million.
Besides the Senate, Democrats also see the state’s 3rd Congressional District as another Republican stronghold to break through. When the blue wave washed over the purple state in 2018, incumbent Republican Scott Tipton held out the storm against Democratic opponent Diane Mitsch Bush. The district’s most populous county, Pueblo, also supported Trump in 2016.
First time candidate James Iacino is campaigning against Mitsch Bush on the Democratic ticket, arguing that the issue of partisanship stretches beyond elections.
“You’ve got some entrenched extremes that continue to dominate the news and continue to feed that narrative that we are more divided than we are united and it’s going to take new leadership and people willing to work together to change that,” Iacino said.
“If we don’t beat Scott Tipton, then any of the programs we’re talking about are just not going to happen,” added Iacino, who supports a public health care option and immigration reform.
Tipton, who has represented the district since 2012, stands off against opponent Lauren Boebert on Tuesday. If Democrats say Tipton is too conservative, Boebert counters that he isn’t MAGA enough to represent the district.
While Boebert leads in Twitter followers, the Federal Election Commission shows Tipton raised $1.1 million in campaign contributions to Boebert’s $133,256.
The spread of Covid-19 may have made voters more wary of political issues impacting their pocketbook, but the Colorado Secretary of State’s office said the pandemic will not effect the election schedule. The Centennial State has been using mail-in ballots since 2013 and in-person polls will open on Tuesday with mask requirements and social distancing measures in place.
As of Thursday, the Secretary of State’s office reported 838,500 of the state’s 3.4 million registered voters had turned in their ballots.