Colorado will conduct its first presidential party primaries in decades on Super Tuesday next year, joining at least 12 other states in a scrum that could winnow the sprawling field of 2020 White House hopefuls, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday.
Polis told Colorado Politics he hopes the state will draw plenty of attention by holding its Democratic and Republican primaries on March 3, known as Super Tuesday, because it's the first and largest multiple-state election in the presidential nominating process, including primaries in California and Texas.
"The most important thing is to highlight Colorado and make sure both major parties focus on issues that are important to Colorado," Polis, a Democrat, told Colorado Politics in an interview.
"I want [candidates] to come in full listening mode, to have town halls and listen to our unaffiliated voters," Polis said. "It's a great opportunity for candidates to really listen to people, not just of their party."
The field of Democratic presidential candidates could include two Coloradans — former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who launched his campaign in March, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who has said he plans to jump in the race as soon as he's recovered from successful prostate cancer surgery.
Unaffiliated voters — at roughly 40%, the state's largest share of registered voters — will be able to cast ballots in Colorado's primaries under a ballot measure approved in 2016. They will be allowed to vote on one party's primary ballot.
While the Democrats will likely boast the most crowded presidential field — at last count, 20 Democrats were running, with several others in the wings — Polis said he anticipates attention from candidates in both major parties.
"On the Republican side, with unaffiliated voter also getting ballots, we hope to attract the attention of President [Donald] Trump and any primary challengers he might have," Polis said.
"On the Democratic side, we hope that many of them will visit Colorado and invest in Colorado."
Polis said he hasn't picked a favorite for president and welcomes the chance to show off the state to candidates who visit.
"I'm happy to always meet with major candidates," he said.
Colorado voters approved the move to a presidential primary in 2016 when Initiative 107 passed with 64% of the vote. The measure allows the governor to pick a date for the primary from the first three Tuesdays in March.
Under the measure, Colorado Democrats and Republicans will hold precinct caucuses on the Saturday after the primary — next year, it's March 7 — to conduct party business and begin the nominating process for other races, including next year's marquee race for U.S. Senate.
Colorado's June primary remains in place for all other races on the ballot next year, including for county, legislative and congressional offices.
Polis said he consulted with fellow Democrat Secretary of State Jena Griswold and the state Democratic and Republican chairs before settling on March 3 for the presidential primary.
Iit would have been nearly impossible to meet statutory deadlines — including holding county and state assemblies and printing mail ballots ahead of the June 30 primary — if the presidential primary and precinct caucuses were held later than the first full week of March, according to party and election officials.
Polis had until September to set the presidential primary date but said he wanted to make it official as early as possible so election officials and candidates had plenty of time to prepare.
"The sooner our clerks know the better," he said.
The state last held a presidential primary in 2000 but abandoned the contest in favor of party caucuses, which typically draw a tiny fraction of eligible voters.
In 2016, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders prevailed over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Colorado's Democratic caucuses and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept the contest on the GOP side, though neither went on to win each party's nomination.
Voting in Colorado's all-mail presidential primary election will overlap with two of the four traditional early nominating contests, after Iowa holds its caucuses and New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary but while Nevada and South Carolina voters are casting their votes.
"I'm excited that Colorado voters will have an opportunity to weigh in early in the process, before the nominees are chosen," Polis said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the primary date.
"We're excited that this will help promote Colorado on the national map."
He noted that Colorado will be one of the only "purple" states — whose electoral votes for president are up for grabs — voting so early in the selection process.
Colorado has thrown its presidential votes to the Democratic nominee in the last three elections, choosing President Barack Obama twice and favoring Clinton over Trump in 2016, but a Trump campaign official said this weekend that the Republican plans to contest the state next year.
In addition to California and Texas, the other states holding their presidential nominating contests on Super Tuesday include Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
According to election forecasters, battlegrounds among the states voting through Super Tuesday could include Nevada, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia, in addition to Colorado.
If they're still in the race by Super Tuesday, Hickenlooper and Bennet could be sharing the Democratic ballot with a number of other favorite sons and daughters whose states are voting the same day: Vermont's Sanders, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Seth Moulton, both of Massachusetts, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro of Texas.