Denver Democrat Neal Walia on Tuesday announced that he's running in next year's Democratic primary for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the longest-serving member of Colorado's congressional delegation.
Describing himself as a "grassroots progressive" candidate, Walia says he was moved by the economic and social fragility exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic to challenge the 13-term incumbent in the overwhelmingly Democratic 1st Congressional District.
The 33-year-old Walia, whose parents emigrated from India to the United States before he was born, said he's running to fight for "the people who’ve been left behind by politicians across the spectrum."
Arguing that Americans' lives are "dominated by a tiny ruling class" of billionaires, tech monopolists and corporations, Walia says on his campaign website: "It’s time we elected a leader with the integrity to stand up to these interests, the comprehensive vision to tackle system-wide challenges, and the viable solutions to address the issues confronting everyday Denverites."
The Denver-based 1st CD hasn't elected a Republican to Congress in 50 years. DeGette, an attorney and former state lawmaker, was first elected in 1996 and has since won re-election by wide margins.
"Neal has a lot of respect for the work Diana has been doing for the last more than two decades in Congress, but representation is important, voters being able to see themselves in their representative is important," Morgan Watters, Walia's campaign manager, told Colorado Politics. "Being a young person of color, a renter, someone whose story is similar to many Denverites — having that representation, someone who knows what your everyday life is like is hugely important."
Added Watters: "Neal is running to give a voice to everyday Denverites who are living paycheck to paycheck, who can’t afford their medical bills, who can’t afford housing, who are one mishap way from living on the streets. He saw an opportunity to make change in Congress and lead from the bottom up instead of the top down."
Walia plans to kick off his campaign Saturday outside the Pacific Ocean Marketplace on West Alameda Avenue in Denver.
Walia worked as a program coordinator for then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, focusing on ending homelessness and building ties between state government and the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, and a subsequent job with the National Governors Association, he said, "opened his eyes to the underside of national politics."
A spokeswoman for DeGette said the congresswoman is "focused on doing the job that the people of CD 1 elected her to do."
Jennie Peek-Dunstone, DeGette's campaign manager, said in a statement: "Just since January she served as an impeachment manager; sponsored key climate change legislation to control deadly methane gas emissions and stood next to President Biden when he signed the bill; as co-chair of the Pro-choice Caucus, ensured that for the first time in 45 years the abortion restrictions in the Hyde Amendment are stripped from the federal budget; passed the PAW act which protects over 3 million acres of federal land through the House; secured millions of dollars in the appropriations bills for funding for homelessness and housing in the Denver area; and has introduced several critical pieces of health care legislation."
After finding herself with a clear path to the November ballot for most of her tenure, DeGette has faced primary challengers for the last few cycles.
In 2016, she defeated political newcomer Charles “Chuck” Norris, whose campaign was inspired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders , with 87 percent of the vote. Two years later, DeGette fended off a spirited challenge from attorney and children's book publisher Saira Rao, winning the primary with more than 68% of the vote.
Former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran ran against DeGette ahead of last year's election and garnered several high-profile endorsements for her campaign but withdrew after eight months and later moved out of state.
DeGette has yet to draw a Republican challenger for the 2022 election.