Heading into a pivotal election year, there may not be a single person more pivotal to Colorado Senate Democrats' efforts to retain and expand their majority than Madeline Zann.
Zann, 25, was in September named executive director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund after serving as the fund's finance director since the spring. Don't let her youth fool you, though; the Fort Collins native boasts a resume that belies her age.
She managed the reelection campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, in 2020. In 2019, she was the regional field director for Our Colorado Way of Life, the committee that raised almost $322,000 to beat back recall efforts against Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, two other state senators and Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial.
Zann is co-president and treasurer of the Colorado Blueflower Fund, which fundraises for Democratic, pro-choice candidates.
She also ran the campaign for Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, worked on Sen. Michael Bennet's short-lived presidential campaign in 2020 and as a legislative aide at the state Capitol for Gray and as an intern with Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village.
She is a graduate of the University of Denver, with a major in International Studies and minor in French. She also reported for the Clarion for three years, the DU student newspaper.
Zann is stepping into the leadership role for Senate Democrats as eyes turn to next year's election.
Even as conservative statewide ballot measures tanked, Republicans in Colorado celebrated the electoral successes of local conservatives and Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. Colorado Republicans see a wave coming that they hope is akin to the one in 2018 that swept many of their conservative colleagues out of power.
Republicans aren't the only ones that see advantages presenting themselves next year. Along with new map brought by redistricting, four of the six vacant Senate seats next year belong to Republicans.
The two seats currently held by Democrats belong to a pair of the chamber's most influential members — Garcia and President Pro Tempore Kerry Donovan of Vail. Those seats, under the old maps, would have been reliably blue: Garcia and Donovan won their seats 2018 by an average margin of 2-to-1. Both are term-limited.
It's against that backdrop that Zann enters the electoral fray in a leadership role.
Colorado Politics caught up with her to talk about expectations for next year, campaigning versus legislating and favorite take-out spots to patronize during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Colorado Politics: What initially drew you politics? Was there a seminal moment or did it build up over time?
Madeline Zann: It definitely built up over time. My parents, my dad especially, always had the news on, so I always had a sense of what was going on and was deeply engaged in the third-grade mock-presidential election in 2004. I think because Fort Collins is a college town, my high school and middle school always seemed abnormally engaged in politics — which was also probably the Obama effect, but I always cared and followed politics. It wasn’t necessarily what I went into college planning on doing, but it’s definitely become the work I love.
CP: Tell me a little more about your career in politics from that point up until now.
Zann: I’ve been lucky to work with a number of fantastic candidates and legislators at nearly all levels of government. I started as an intern for Jeff Bridges, who’s now one of my DSCF co-chairs, but have worked as an aide and campaign manager for state Rep. Matt Gray, Sen. Bennet, Congressman Neguse, and on the Decline to Sign team in 2019. Basically, I’ve done some of everything, from legislative and policy work to fundraising to field and political work.
CP: I’m always interested in what motivates people to be on the campaign side versus the policy side as a legislative aide. You’ve done both but have been far more active on the campaign side, so I’m curious as to what factored into that decision for you?
Zann: I realized pretty quickly that I cared too much about a number of policies to focus on just one thing — I have a number of friends who have carved out niches for themselves in health care or housing or enviro work — and specializing in that way never felt quite right. Campaigns can be a pretty incredible work environment, and for me, working to get others elected, or pass ballot measures, felt like the best way to ensure the policies that I do care about get worked on and solved.
CP: I know you worked shortly in the Capitol as a legislative aide, do you see yourself moving away from campaigning and toward policy in the future?
Zann: Never say never, but it seems unlikely. I have the utmost respect for the folks who do the wonky policy work, but I love the pace of campaigning and working one-on-one with candidates and volunteers. Some of my closest friends are still people I worked on campaigns with.
CP: Let’s talk about the state of play in your day job. The redistricting process isn’t done yet, but I think we have a good sense of what the map will look like. What do you make of it?
Zann: Obviously the maps are still pending Supreme Court review, but largely, I think the commission worked as it was supposed to. Going into a midterm with brand new maps was always going to be interesting, but I think it’s safe to say that neither party got their wish list out of the legislative maps.
CP: It may be hard to go by district because those aren’t finalized yet, but do you see any regions where Democratic candidates can be more competitive than in the past? I’m also curious about the inverse of that question: Do you see any regions that have in the past been fairly comfortable for Democrats that could be more competitive this time around?
Zann: Admittedly, I’m biased, but I think with the right candidate, nearly every part of the state can be competitive for Democrats. Suburban areas are continuing to trend Democratic, as are, surprising as it may be, Colorado Springs and El Paso County. I imagine the new Senate layout in Colorado Springs will be of interest to both parties.
CP: Do you have any sense yet of some of the issues that will define next year’s race?
Zann: I think every cycle ultimately comes back to the core question facing Coloradans: how do we make our state the best possible place to live? However, after the past year and a half, I imagine that the question of how we sustainably recover from COVID will be at the top of voters’ minds.
Education? B.A. in International Studies at the University of Denver
Favorite non-work-related? Reading, baking, watching the Rockies
First job out of high school? Pet-sitter
Favorite takeout spot during the pandemic? Peter’s Chinese Cafe