Battle for the Ballot: Democrats face plenty of choices at Broomfield assembly


Expect a surplus of hoopla and hours of excitement — but not much suspense — at the top of the ticket when as many as 4,000 Democratic delegates convene April 14 in Broomfield for the party’s Colorado state assembly.

Unlike Colorado Republicans, who are meeting the same day a dozen miles up the turnpike in Boulder, the Democrats will have plenty to decide at the biennial meeting, with contested races for every statewide office. But the rough outcome of the marquee election for governor is in little doubt because of the procedure Democrats use to elect delegates to the assembly.

Both major parties will designate statewide candidates to the primary ballot at their state assemblies — a speedy process that began at precinct caucuses held at thousands of locations around the state on March 6 when party members picked delegates to attend county and other district assemblies. Delegates at those gatherings, in turn, elected or confirmed delegates to the state assemblies. Delegates will also vote on their parties’ platforms at the meetings.

The Democrats will be gathering at Broomfield’s 1stBank Center arena to choose primary candidates in all five statewide races that will be on the ballot this year — governor, attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state and University of Colorado regent at-large. In addition, several candidates for governor and attorney general are also petitioning onto the ballot in a parallel process.

New this year, Democrats have 4,000 potential delegates — not all positions will be filled, so there will be fewer at the event — but no alternates. The party decided last fall that doing away with alternates means the assembly can get down to business faster than in previous years by skipping the complicated process involved in seating alternates.It takes the support of 30 percent of delegates to get past assembly into the primary, although candidates who are also petitioning need 10 percent at assembly, or their petitions won’t count.

Barring a major upset, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy should emerge from the Democratic assembly with top-line designation on the June 26 primary ballot, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is also petitioning onto the ballot, will also likely be assured of a spot in the primary.

They’ll be joining former state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who at press time was the only statewide candidate whose petitions had been ruled sufficient to get him on the ballot, while Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne awaits word — which could arrive as late as April 27, election officials have said — whether she turned in enough valid signatures on her petitions to qualify.

The reason the Democrats are looking at somewhat predictable results is due to the way the party elects delegates.Starting at precinct caucuses and through county and other assemblies, Democrats conduct a preference poll for the top-ticket race — this year it’s governor — and award delegates based on those results.

Votes don’t always translate directly into delegate numbers because of threshold rules that require representation for every candidate who clears 15 percent support. But at each stage, candidates in the designated race can gauge their strength. It’s complicated further, however, because delegates aren’t pledged to a candidate and can vote however they want at assemblies.

Republicans, in contrast, elect their delegates without regard to candidate preference, although some precincts and some counties have held straw polls to indicate how races are shaping up.

Kennedy — the only major Democrat running for governor who didn’t circulate petitions — won the preference poll on caucus night handily, with 50 percent of the vote, and appears to have increased her share of delegates since.According to preliminary figures compiled through April 5 by the Colorado Democratic Party, 57 percent of the delegates chosen at county assemblies are backing Kennedy, and 33 percent support Polis. Johnston, who had been going through the caucus and assembly process until he announced he was pulling out earlier this week, had 3 percent of the delegates, the same share elected as “undecided.”

A fifth candidate, tech entrepreneur and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Erik Underwood, had just two delegates, or around one-quarter of a percent of the delegates chosen at that point, in his corner.

In addition to the April 14 contest between Kennedy, Polis and Underwood, Democrats will likely be winnowing candidates, or at least setting ballot order, in the other statewide races.

Four Democrats are running for attorney general, although one of them — Denver lawyer Brad Levin — is just petitioning on and won’t participate in the assembly vote. That leaves former CU Law School dean Phil Weiser, state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and former federal prosecutor Amy Padden vying for delegate support at press time. Weiser and Padden have also submitted petitions.

The race for state treasurer features state Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley; political newcomer Bernard Douthit; and Charles Quin Scheibe, the state’s chief financial officer.

Attorney Jena Griswold is facing activist Phillip Villard for secretary of state.

Two Democrats are running for University of Colorado regent at-large: attorney Chantell Taylor, a former director of Colorado Ethics Watch; and Lesley Smith, a retired CU scientist, former Boulder Valley School District board member and the first woman aquanaut at the Aquarius underwater research laboratory.

The last time the Democrats held a state assembly at the 1stBank Center, in 2010, the party nominated then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to run for governor — he won the office that year, was re-elected in 2014 and faces term-limits this cycle — and awarded top-line in the U.S. Senate primary to former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, over the incumbent, Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to the seat a year earlier.

Bennet went on to win the primary and has been elected by state voters twice since then.

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