Boebert Crow

U.S. Rep-elect Lauren Boebert, R-Rifle, and U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora

Now that nearly every 2020 race is in the history books, we wanted to recognize the Colorado campaigns that turned heads among politicos.

We surveyed a dozen strategists, operatives, consultants and up-close observers to determine which campaigns deserve honors for top-notch performances in a year that demanded a nimble approach amid constantly changing conditions.

Many of the winners were consensus choices across partisan lines, though a few provoked vehement discussions in their favor and in opposition to their inclusion, with some contending that stellar candidates won despite their campaigns and others arguing that there was nothing noteworthy about riding what proved to be a Democratic wave that drenched most of the state.

Our list includes campaigns at every stage of the election year and nearly every level on the ballot, from the March presidential primary that came and went before the pandemic hit to the June primary and the November general election.

Notably absent from the list is the Colorado candidate who scored what was arguably the year's biggest win — Democrat John Hickenlooper, who defeated Republican Cory Gardner, marking only the second time in four decades an incumbent senator has lost a bid for re-election in Colorado. With the help of an able crew that mostly kept the former governor under wraps, Hickenlooper survived a crowded and potentially divisive primary and managed to break the tape with his statewide favorability mostly intact.

That said, the Democrats' coordinated campaign figured out how to turn out voters amid a pandemic without relying on many of the tried-and-true tools its organizers have honed over multiple cycles, including voter registration drives and hordes of volunteers knocking on door after door.

But even as their Republican counterparts mocked the Biden and Hickenlooper campaign's remote get-out-the-vote operations, which shunned the in-person campaigning that the Trump Victory and Gardner campaigns embraced, the Democrats turned in lopsided wins under trying circumstances.

Coming off last cycle's blue wave and straight through to Election Day two years later, the top statewide races in Colorado were the Democrats' to lose. But as campaign after campaign has demonstrated, an early advantage in the polls doesn't mean bupkis if the leading campaign doesn't execute and make it across the finish line.

It would have been hard to fail with an enthusiastic electorate as primed to vote against Donald Trump as Colorado's was, but nonetheless the Biden and Hickenlooper juggernauts delivered.

Biden beat Trump by the biggest margin in a presidential race in Colorado since Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide and the biggest margin for a challenger since FDR's win in 1932.

Hickenlooper, for his part, turned in the biggest margin in a Colorado Senate race in a dozen years, when Mark Udall beat Bob Schaffer, and tallied the largest advantage over an incumbent since Bill Armstrong unseated Floyd Haskell in 1978.

Nonetheless, while the two top-ticket Democrats posted solid wins, their campaigns didn't make the cut.

These are the best Colorado campaigns of the 2020 election:

Lauren Boebert

A year ago, few outside the Rifle Republican's inner circle thought Boebert had a chance of unseating five-term GOP incumbent Scott Tipton in the largely rural 3rd Congressional District.

The pint-sized, pistol-packing mom brought a certain star power to her primary challenge — she'd already drawn international attention for Shooters Grill, the restaurant she owned where most of the staff was armed, and when she announced her run Boebert was enjoying another boost in the conservative media sphere for challenging Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke's gun confiscation plan.

But none of that would have added up to much without a solid and somewhat stealthy campaign effort that caught Tipton off guard and powered through the fall against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush.

After beating one of Trump's honorary state campaign co-chairs in the primary, Boebert almost immediately nabbed an endorsement from the president and parlayed that into powerhouse fundraising, which helped fend off a steady stream of well-funded attacks on her brushes with the law and lack of a detailed platform.

Jason Crow

The Democrat ran a textbook campaign in the battleground 6th Congressional District, turning what is typically every candidate's most vulnerable race — the first run for re-election — into what amounted to a romp in the park over Republican challenger Steve House.

Outraising his eventual Republican challenger by nearly four-to-one, Crow was able to run an entirely positive campaign highlighting his military background and bipartisan legislative accomplishments, all while keeping his decidedly progressive positions on health care, climate change and gun control.

Along the way to a convincing win, Crow turned out to be the only Democrat to carry rock-ribbed Republican Douglas County. He also won the district with the exact same share of the vote — 57% — as seven-term Republican Doug Lamborn received in the deep-red 5th Congressional District, no mean feat in a seat that had never been represented by a Democrat before Crow claimed it in the 2018 election.

Kevin Priola

The Adams County Republican won a second term representing swingy Senate District 25 in one of the tightest legislative races of the election, winning by just over 1,000 votes.

Deluged with attack ads that attempted to portray the moderate aisle-crosser as a scary Republican in a year when his district's electorate was poised to punish anyone who reminded them of Trump, the affable Priola reminded voters why they elected him in the first place and in the process became one of the few GOP candidates to outperform his opponent, Democrat Paula Dickerson, among unaffiliated voters.

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator's Colorado campaign built on the grassroots organization that powered Sanders to victory in the state's 2016 caucuses, but there was no guarantee that would translate to a win in a presidential primary, which drew huge turnout from less hardcore Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

But even as the Democrats' presidential field was shifting by the day — two leading candidates, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, withdrew from the race just days before ballots were counted — an army of volunteers turned out the vote and kept Colorado in Sanders' column.

David Ortiz

The Littleton Democrat yanked House District 38 out of Republican hands for the first time in memory, flipping a storied seat that was once the breeding ground of many of Colorado's leading GOP candidates without breaking a sweat.

Ortiz, a newcomer to politics, raised lots of money and built one of the largest volunteer efforts in the state, with a phone banking operation that rivaled much larger campaigns. In the end, he ushered out Richard Champion, who was appointed to the legislature earlier this year, defeating the last Republican holdout in Arapahoe County.

Lorena Garcia

The nonprofit executive and indefatigable organizer lands on the list even though the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate didn't win her race and didn't even make the primary. She drew praise from liberal and conservative political hands alike for building an impressive statewide campaign from scratch and coming close to petitioning onto the ballot.

Garcia competed — and cooperated — with a handful of Democrats who made it their mission to make sure voters had a choice beyond the middle-aged white guys, Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff, who qualified for the primary, but the courts dashed her hopes, disagreeing that the petition requirements should be waived due to the pandemic.

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