Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado state House, on Saturday won top line designation in the June 30 primary and was the only candidate to emerge from the party's state assembly, which was conducted online due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Romanoff will face former Gov. John Hickenlooper for the chance to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in what could be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country this year.
In an online video distributed to assembly delegates, Romanoff argued that his more progressive candidacy was better suited to taking on Gardner than Hickenlooper's moderate approach.
"We can combat the climate crisis instead of subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. We can ensure health care for all instead of watching half a million families go bankrupt each year because they can’t afford their medical bills. And we can build an economy that works for everyone, instead of showering tax breaks on those at the top," Romanoff said.
Noting that at least one poll taken last summer showed Gardner losing to a generic Democratic candidate, Romanoff added: "I urge you to nominate more than a generic Democrat. Pick someone who will bring the courage of your convictions to this fight."
With 86% of the delegate vote, Romanoff managed to keep the remaining candidates going through the assembly process from reaching the 30% needed to make the primary ballot.
Former congressional candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding received 9% of the vote and entrepreneur Erik Underwood, who ran last cycle for governor, got less than 1%.
First-time candidate Trish Zornio, a scientist and educator, ended her campaign Wednesday, saying she didn't have enough delegate support heading into the state assembly.
Hickenlooper, the leader in polling and fundraising, qualified for the ballot by petition last month.
Non-profit executive Lorena Garcia learned Friday from the Secretary of State's Office that she didn't turn in enough signatures to make the primary but said she plans to challenge the ruling in court next week.
Twenty-one Democrats mounted campaigns for the nomination, including five prominent candidates who withdrew from the race after Hickenlooper ended his presidential campaign and joined the race last fall — state Sen. Angela Williams; former state Sen. Mike Johnston; John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado; former Ambassador Dan Baer; and former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden.
Considered among the most vulnerable incumbent senators on the ballot this year, Gardner is one of only two Republicans running for re-election this year in states carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In recent weeks, two of the leading national election forecasters have moved Colorado's Senate race from the "toss-up" column to ratings more favorable to the Democrats.
Hickenlooper said in a statement to Colorado Politics that he's ready for the race ahead, citing the same issues Romanoff routinely raises.
“This health crisis has been hard on everyone and has made clear how broken Washington is,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s time to elect a Senator to represent Colorado who will expand health care, tackle climate change, and stand up for Colorado workers and small businesses. With the support of our team and incredible volunteers, our campaign is ready to win the nomination in June and go on to defeat Senator Gardner in November.”
County clerks send primary ballots to military and overseas voters in four weeks, and ballots go out to most of the state's 3.4 million voters on June 8. Under Colorado's semi-open primary, the state's roughly 1.3 million unaffiliated voters will be able to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.
Joe Jackson, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, described the Democratic primary as a "tug of war between two extremists," and added, "Colorado Republicans are unified behind Cory Gardner and the results he continues to deliver.”
It will be Romanoff's second appearance in a Democratic U.S. Senate primary. In 2010, he won top-line designation at the state assembly over U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to the seat a year earlier, but lost the primary to Bennet.
Romanoff told Colorado Politics Saturday that the state's electorate has moved in his direction since he last ran statewide.
"I think Colorado and the country are in a different place," he said. "When you look at what I was campaigning on 10 years ago — aggressive climate action, health care for all, an economy that works for everyone — I think they are positions that most Americans now embrace."
Pointing to fallout from the viral pandemic, including record unemployment and millions of Americans at risk of losing their health care, Romanoff added: "The argument for those priorities has become stronger in the last 10 years and, frankly, in the last 10 weeks."
Romanoff lost a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District.