Andrew Romanoff John Hickenlooper Election 2020

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff, left, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper debate in the studio of Denver7 in Denver on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff spent the weekend rallying campaign volunteers and chasing ballots as Tuesday's deadline to vote for Republican Cory Gardner's challenger approaches.

But the scramble to the primary deadline was overshadowed late Sunday when Romanoff announced on social media that his father had died.

Romanoff, who left the state a week ago to be with his father as he entered hospice care after suffering a series of health setbacks, wrote on Twitter: "My father, Marvin Romanoff, was born March 21, 1940 in Schenectady, NY. He loved crossword puzzles & Chinese food, science fiction & chocolate shakes—and his grandkids most of all. He spent 24 years on the Franklin County Municipal Court. I love my dad & will miss him forever."

Outpourings of grief filled the replies to Romanoff's tweet, including condolences from Hickenlooper, a former two-term governor, and his wife.

"Robin and I offer our deepest condolences," Hickenlooper tweeted. "In these difficult times, we hope that you and your family find comfort in the memories of your father that will be with you always. We are so sorry for your loss."

Romanoff, a former state House speaker, has often referenced his divorced parents on the campaign trail, noting that his conservative father would call him up to talk politics after watching Fox News — in sharp contrast to his mother, Gayle Caplan, who shares her son's progressive outlook and has joined him on the campaign trail through numerous elections.

On Saturday, Romanoff and Hickenlooper participated in separate virtual get-out-the-vote rallies with national figures who made cases that their preferred candidates should be the nominee to take on Gardner, considered one of the most vulnerable senators on the ballot this year.

"You set an example for other purple states to follow," said Shannon Watts, founder of the national gun-safety organization Moms Demand Action, during a Zoom teleconference with Hickenlooper. "You showed that gun-safety measures are politically smart."

She was referring to one of Hickenlooper's chief campaign messages, that he's demonstrated he can crack tough political nuts, like when he signed legislation to require universal background checks, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and make it more difficult for Coloradans with a history of domestic abuse to obtain firearms.

Watts, who moved from Colorado to Northern California last fall, drew a distinction between Hickenlooper's record and Gardner's.

"Time and again, we’ve seen Sen. Gardner side with the NRA to oppose and block gun safety legislation. Colorado deserves a senator who won’t be in the pocket of the gun lobby and who will deliver common-sense gun safety," she said, adding: "This Senate has blocked life-saving legislation over and over again. It has cozied up to the gun lobby."

Hickenlooper said that if he wins his party's nod on Tuesday, it will "be a campaign with mission."

"The opportunity is there, if we can get people mobilized and make sure people vote — both in this primary but then make sure they go out and vote, get that muscle exercised so that they’ll vote in November. This could be the election that could finally change the world," he said.

Looking ahead to the summer and fall, Hickenlooper added: "It’s going to be a long, hard battle. It’s going to be a brawl."

Two polls released in recent weeks showed Hickenlooper leading Romanoff by wide margins, though the internal poll commissioned by the Romanoff campaign found the underdog trailing by 12 percentage points, and a Colorado Politics-9News poll had Hickenlooper ahead by 30 percentage points.

Earlier polling showed Hickenlooper with a double-digit lead over Gardner, though that was before a series of stumbles and millions of dollars in negative advertising from Romanoff, Gardner and national Republicans has flooded Colorado airwaves, raising questions whether the popular former Denver mayor who won statewide in tough years for Democrats still has what it takes to take out an incumbent.

Earlier this month, Hickenlooper was found in contempt for ignoring a subpoena from the state's Independent Ethics Commission, which later found he violated a constitutional ban on gifts and hit him with the largest fine in the panel's history. The notoriously gaffe-prone politician also bungled an answer about he sentiment behind the phrase "Black Lives Matter" during a forum on racial justice and had to apologize for comparing elected officials to slaves.

Those are among the vulnerabilities Romanoff has sought to exploit in aggressive debate performances and attack ads, arguing that he stands a better chance of beating Gardner with his more progressive agenda.

"I imagine that the very last thing that Coloradans feel they need is for a Texan to tell them what to think politically, but nonetheless, I’m not here to tell you what to do but to vouch for this guy, Andrew Romanoff," said radio host and national bestselling author Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and a leading populist voice for decades.

"I stand with Andrew Romanoff because he stands with us. He doesn’t need a GPS and a Google map to find the grassroots," Hightower said, appearing on a Zoom teleconference from his home in Austin. "He is the grassroots."

Hightower argued that Romanoff, who supports the Green New Deal and the single-payer "Medicare for all" health care plan, is a candidate who can build a progressive movement in the Senate "that can move our government back to the people, out of the corporate boardrooms.”

Added Hightower: "This is an election to make a difference — not just to elect a Democrat, but to elect somebody who’s going to stand up against the special interests and for the common interest, for the country."

Romanoff took some familiar swings at his primary opponent, zeroing in on Hickenlooper's sometimes cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry.

"He never met a permit he wouldn’t approve and literally drank the fracking fluid," Romanoff said. "He not only opposes the progressive ideas you and I share, but he literally compares these ideas — you can look it up — to the discredited ideas of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin. At least Cory Gardner stops at Marx."

Romanoff said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed faults in the health care system that demand bold solutions.

"The big question is what we do next, do we just resume business as usual? I say no, because business as usual wasn’t working," he said.

Hightower responded: "A farmer once told me that status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in. We’ve got to make big change."

Ballots must be delivered to county clerks by 7 pm. Tuesday, though it's too late to put them in the mail. Find information about ballot drop-boxes and polling locations here on the Colorado Secretary of States's website, and check for information on voter registration and to track ballots.

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