Then-U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff is shown outside his Denver campaign office on March 16, 2020.

Andrew Romanoff is a tenacious rival in the Democratic primary for Colorado's U.S. Senate race, even before he gets a shot at Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.

After winning the Colorado preference poll on March 7  over former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Romanoff, the former Colorado House Speaker, is ready to take on the better known, better financed former governor and a field of Democrats behind him. 

He hasn't got to square off with Hickenlooper, however, nearly as much as he would like. Hickenlooper has skipped many of the forums for candidates.

“In most of these events all the other candidates, except John, have showed up,” Romanoff said.

Romanoff disagrees with Democrats who are skittish about the party's candidates disagreeing on the issues, which they fear might disaffect some November voters.

“I think it strengthens the party and that’s how you become the nominee,” he said.

He doesn’t think Gardner will be playing political patty-cake with anyone after the primary.

“I served with Cory Gardner four years in the statehouse,” Romanoff said. “I’m the only candidate who’s debated him already. You can say what you want about Cory, and we do, but he’s a very skilled, very nimble debater.

“That’s my point to Hick. If you can’t stand up to me and the rest of the other Democrats who are running, how do you really expect to beat Cory Gardner?”

Romanoff said the policy issues between him and Hickenlooper are stark, “and we’d get a chance to debate these if he shows up.”

Climate change, he thinks, represents a big divide between the front-runners.

“We should treat the climate like an emergency,” Romanoff said. “Hick has taken a different approach. He sued committees that tried to restrict fracking. He literally drank the fracking fluid.”

Romanoff also hammered Hickenlooper on the former governor’s explanation on gun violence prevention laws passed in 2013, three bills that hung over Hickenlooper’s reelection effort the next year.

Hickenlooper spoke to sheriffs and seemed to backpedal on his support for a bill he signed limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.

“That was breathtaking, almost disqualifying,” Romanoff said. “He said something I don’t think I’ve ever heard any governor say, ‘I signed it because I told one of my staff members I would, and we didn’t really think it was going to pass."

He wondered if Hickenlooper would follow repeat that maneuver if he was in the Senate.

“I’ve never heard a governor blame a member of his staff for forcing him to sign a bill or suggest that he wouldn’t sign bills that turn out to be divisive or controversial,” Romanoff said. “When you get to D.C., you’re going to be confronted with a lot of pressure and you’re going to have to take a stand. If your position is you’re only going to take a stand if nobody gets upset, that’s not a profile in courage”

Romanoff has tracked to the left of Hickenlooper on most issues.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, equated Bernie Sanders’ signature ideas to those of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, Romanoff pointed out. Hickenlooper gave a speech in New Hampshire last year where he said Sanders would “bloat the federal government” and “depress economic growth.”

Romanoff said he will support the nominee, even if it’s not him.

Voters, he thinks, want a candidate who will do what’s right, even stand up to his own party, if he has to.

“I’m doing that right now by running, despite all the pressure the national party is bringing to bear,” Romanoff said, nodding to support for Hickenlooper from Democratic Party leaders.

He said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer scared a lot of people out of the race by throwing his support behind Hickenlooper.

“They recruited a guy who said he didn’t want the job and he wouldn’t be good at it,” Romanoff said. “I believe him, by the way. I’m not running to appease Chuck Schumer or any other power broker in Washington. Schumer doesn’t actually vote in Colorado. He just acts that way. I’m running to represent the people of Colorado. If that doesn’t sit well with the party bosses in D.C., I don't care.”

But if Romanoff wins the nomination, he’s confident bygones will be bygones if Democrats want to take back the seat that Gardner took from Democratic incumbent Mark Udall six years ago.

He said whoever gets the nomination will start out ahead of Gardner, based on polling to date.

“You’ll find yourself with a lot more friends the day after the primary,” he said. “Every progressive alley in America, including, I suspect, the folks in Washington, are going to embrace the nominee, no matter what, so I’m not particularly worried about raising money in the general (election).”

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