Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper's campaign is pushing back against a barrage of Republican attack ads with a new TV ad describing how Hickenlooper made sure a former employee kept his health insurance after a drunk driver left him paralyzed.
The 30-second ad, which began airing Thursday in English- and Spanish-language versions, features Jesusio Silva talking about his brother Carlos, who was working as a chef in 2002 at Wynkoop Brewing Co., the brewpub founded by Hickenlooper, when he owned the restaurant in Denver.
"One day he was on his bike and got hit by a drunk driver," Silva says in the ad. "Twenty-eight years old and he became a quadriplegic. His boss made sure he stayed on the company health care for four more years. His boss was John Hickenlooper. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him."
"I’ve seen these ads attacking John," Silva adds. "You want to know more about John Hickenlooper's character? Come see me."
Hickenlooper is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in a race pegged as the Democrats' best pick-up opportunity as the parties vie for control the Senate in the November election.
Hickenlooper, who relinquished control of the Wynkoop and other restaurant holdings after his election as mayor of Denver in 2003, told Colorado Politics that Silva approached his campaign, wanting to tell his family's story.
"Carlos was a real leader in the kitchen. Everyone respected him," Hickenlooper said. "He was riding his bike to go home one night. He would always stay a little later to make sure everyone finished their work safely and got off; he was a joy to have around. A drunk driver hit him, and the world just changed for all of us. What happened to Carlos was a tragedy."
Silva said in an interview that he felt it was important to convey his family experience with Hickenlooper after seeing all the negative ads.
"He made sure to help our family when we most needed it, when we were struggling. I mean, I'm here for him. In my own community I have my own credibility, and I will be there for John, because I know he's a great guy," he said.
The spot arrives after Republican groups have been targeting Hickenlooper for months with ads calling the former two-term governor "slick," "shady" and "corrupt."
The series of attack ads, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a shadowy local group called Unite for Colorado, began by blasting Hickenlooper for rulings by Colorado's ethics commission holding Hickenlooper in contempt for refusing to testify before the panel and later finding the Democrat violated a state gift ban by accepting travel on private jets and in a limousine.
More recently, the NRSC has been airing ads called misleading or false by independent fact checkers that have attempted to blame Hickenlooper for a deadly pipeline explosion and tons of dangerous pollutants emitted by a Commerce City refinery.
"He’s too corrupt, even for Washington," says the narrator of the latest NRSC ad that accuses Hickenlooper of letting Suncor Energy's oil refinery set its own pollution limits after raising money from the Canadian company and giving it $11 million in tax breaks.
KDVR's Matt Mauro labeled many of the same claims "misleading" in a "Truth Check" of the NRSC's previous ad, noting that state law allowed the company to set its own, voluntary emission limits, and that Suncor donated money to sponsor a program to plant trees in Denver when Hickenlooper was mayor, nearly a decade before the incident highlighted in the ad.
The Hickenlooper campaign pointed out this week that he signed a 2013 law limiting the tax breaks cited in the NRSC ad, which began accumulating decades before Hickenlooper was governor.
A Hickenlooper campaign spokesman charged in a statement that the Republicans' ad was an attempt to "wash away Senator Gardner’s record of standing with Trump 100% of the time while he lets polluters spew toxins into our air and water, rolls back environmental protections, and passes massive tax giveaways for corporate polluters."
“John Hickenlooper is the only candidate in this race who has demonstrated he will protect our clean air and water and understands the urgency of climate change, and that’s why he is endorsed by leading environmental groups including the League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club,” said Hickenlooper press secretary Ammar Moussa.