Election 2020 Hickenlooper

In this Aug. 10, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa. Hickenlooper dropped out of the presidnetial primary and is one of eight Democrats challenging U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper plans to pursue a spot on Colorado's June primary ballot using two methods — gathering petition signatures and going through the caucus and assembly process, his campaign said Friday.

The former two-term governor and two-term mayor of Denver is one of eight Democrats hoping to challenge U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable Republican senators on the ballot next year. By most measures, he's the frontrunner in a field made up mostly of novice politicians.

Taking both routes to the ballot can be risky — candidates who fail to meet a relatively low threshold at the state assembly are barred from petitioning — but the move can also keep opponents out of the primary by denying them enough delegate votes to qualify.

There is a limit to how many candidates can emerge from the caucus and assembly route. Candidates need at least 30 percent of delegate votes, meaning at most three — though more often two, in a crowded field — will qualify that way. Precinct caucuses take place March 7, followed by county assemblies over the following weeks. The Democratic state assembly is set for April 18 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Statewide candidates can also gain a berth on the June 30 ballot by turning in 1,500 signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts signatures for a total of 10,500. Candidates can start circulating petitions Jan. 21, and they’re due back March 17.

It can also be expensive. Democratic consultants say the going rates quoted by petition-gathering firms for a statewide candidate this year range between $400,000 and $450,000.

Among Hickenlooper's primary opponents, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff plans to go the caucus-assembly route, a campaign spokeswoman said Friday, and nonprofit director Lorena Garcia says she'll petition, though she plans to collect signatures using volunteers rather than by hiring a firm.

Since her campaign can't start circulating positions until later this month, Garcia has been asking supporters to pledge online that they'll sign. A campaign spokeswoman wouldn't say how many pledges she's received, but Garcia told Colorado Politics on Friday that she's gotten pledges "from every corner of Colorado and more people pledge everyday."

Added Garcia: "We are also excited for the many volunteers who have committed to circulating petitions. We are very confident that those choosing the caucus route will know that there is already a candidate on the ballot who has built a statewide grassroots coalition needed to win."

Hickenlooper's approach isn't unprecedented.

In the 2018 election, both major party gubernatorial nominees took both routes, though for different reasons.

Democrat Jared Polis, a then-congressman who went on to win the governor's office in November, turned in petitions but state officials skipped verifying his signatures after Polis was guaranteed a spot on the ballot after placing second at assembly with 33% of the vote, behind Cary Kennedy, who had 62%. (Two other candidates, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and then-Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, qualified for the ballot via petition.)

Republican Walker Stapleton, at the time a two-term state treasurer, originally planned to petition on but withdrew his petitions less than a week before the state assembly over concerns the firm he'd hired had gathered some signatures fraudulently.

After a scramble to jump into the assembly at the last minute, Stapleton won top-line designation with 44% of the delegate vote. Dark-horse candidate Greg Lopez, a former mayor of Parker, also got on the ballot with 33%, but other top contenders — including then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — failed to make the ballot. (Two other Republicans, businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell, managed to petition into the primary.)

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