U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the longest-serving member of Colorado's congressional delegation, faces a primary challenge from fellow Denver Democrat Neal Walia after the first-time candidate qualified for the June ballot by submitting enough valid petition signatures, state election officials announced Tuesday.
Seeking her 14th term, DeGette won top-line on the primary ballot last week at a party assembly in the overwhelmingly Democratic 1st Congressional District, which mostly coincides with Denver's city limits.
It takes 1,500 signatures from fellow party members for major party congressional candidates to make the ballot in Colorado. Of the 2,882 signatures Walia's campaign turned in, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office said 1,744 were valid, easily surpassing the requirement.
A political organizer and the son of Indian immigrants, Walia launched his bid to challenge the incumbent from the left last summer, saying he wants to represent vulnerable communities and was motivated by inequalities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The signatures on those petitions came from East Colfax, the Northside, Five Points, Glendale and so many other communities across our district who have been left out in past congressional runs and who do not see themselves being represented," Walia said in a statement.
"Now that we are on the ballot we will continue our people-powered mission to make history this June when we elect the first person of color to represent our district in the halls of Congress, as well as the only federal representative in our entire state who has never accepted corporate PAC dollars."
A spokeswoman for DeGette's campaign said the congresswoman, one of the House impeachment managers who prosecuted the case against former President Trump last year, hopes to represent the district for another term.
"We are going to continue talking with voters about Diana's record of accomplishment," Jennie Peek-Dunstone told Colorado Poltics in an email. "Whether it's protecting a woman's right to choose, bringing important resources to the District to combat homelessness or fighting for environmental justice for communities of color, Diana has been an effective advocate for the 1st Congressional District."
An attorney and former state lawmaker, DeGette has won reelection easily through most of her tenure in Congress but has faced primary challengers in each of the last three cycles.
She defeated newcomer Charles "Chuck" Norris in the 2016 primary with 87% of the vote, and two years later DeGette prevailed over attorney and children's book publisher Saira Rao with 68% of the vote. In both elections, she went on to defeat Republican nominee Casper Stockham, including in 2018 by nearly 51 points, the widest margin ever recorded in the congressional district.
Last cycle, former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran launched a primary campaign with support from several prominent Denver Democrats but withdrew about a year before the election and later moved out of state.
A Republican candidate for the seat has yet to emerge.