Democrats are eyeing the Colorado Senate seat currently held by Republican Cory Gardner as one of their top pick-up opportunities next year. Dating back to 2010, Democrats have carried every statewide election for president, governor, and senate in the state – other than Gardner’s two-point victory over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D) in 2014. With most election forecasters listing the race as a “toss up,” Democratic groups have been eager to tear down Gardner. In May, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a digital ad campaign targeting Gardner and several other vulnerable Republicans for their votes in favor of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. Outside groups like Demand Justice and EMILY’s List have also set their sights on Gardner.
Despite what appear to be favorable odds, Democrats have one glaring challenge: a huge slate of candidates. Last week, former CO Governor John Hickenlooper announced he was running for Senate after dropping out of the 2020 presidential contest. His entrance brought the number of announced Democrats to 14. While some candidates are to be taken more seriously than others, there are enough high-profile, qualified individuals running to spur a drawn out primary. The DSCC, who had remained relatively quiet on the primary front before Hickenlooper’s entrance, appears to have found their preferred candidate in the former governor. Shortly after his announcement, the group issued him a resounding endorsement.
The candidates who had previously announced they were running quickly made it clear that they were not willing to back down against Hickenlooper, signaling that this could be a contentious primary.
With so many Democrats running, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who. AR/Intel has pulled together brief bios on each of the announced candidates along with any notable political information you need to know in order to get up to speed on this top-tier Senate race.
AR/Intel Insiders: For information on possible candidates, polling, the latest news, and more, check out our updated Colorado Senate Race Brief.
Dan Baer served under President Obama in the U.S. State Department for seven years, working as the deputy assistant secretary from 2009 to 2013 and as an ambassador for the “U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe” from 2013 to 2017. Most recently, Baer ran the Colorado Department of Higher Education. He appears to be positioning himself as the foreign policy expert in the race, telling The Denver Post that he “can go toe-to-toe with Cory Gardner on foreign policy issues.” Baer announced his candidacy in April 2019 and had an impressive fundraising effort in the second quarter, bringing in $1.3M, the second most among all the candidates.
Diana Bray is a clinical psychologist and environmental activist. She attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where she graduated with a BA in English Literature and Psychology. After receiving her graduate degree, Bray began working at American University. Bray said she began attending protests in 2006 and has been a political activist ever since. She launched her campaign in April 2019, promising to fight for the environment.
Ellen Burnes is a college professor and economist. After receiving an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995 and a PhD in resource economics from Oregon State University in 2001, Burnes worked for several consulting companies including KPMG. In 2015, Burnes began teaching finance at Colorado State University in 2015. She has served as the chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party since 2017 and currently works as the CFO of the Association for Community Living. Burnes announced her candidacy in April 2019.
Lorena Garcia is a nonprofit executive who has served as the executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition (CSPC) since 2018. Prior to joining CSPC, Garcia worked as the executive director at Namlo International (2017-18), as development and strategic communications director for Colorado Youth Matter (2015-2017), and as the executive director for Wyolife (2014-2015). Garcia was the first candidate to officially enter the Senate race, announcing her candidacy on November 27, 2018. Despite the early entrance, Garcia’s fundraising has lagged – she only raised $7,000 in the first quarter of the year.
John Hickenlooper is a former two-term governor of Colorado who served from 2011 to 2019. He previously served as the mayor of Denver from 2003 to 2011. In addition to his public service career, Hickenlooper is also the cofounder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company and worked as geologist for Buckhorn Petroleum. Hickenlooper is viewed as the current frontrunner in the Democratic primary; a poll released earlier this month showed him leading the Democratic field by 51 points. Despite his frontrunner status, Hickenlooper has been panned by environmentalists in Colorado, who have criticized his positions on fracking and energy development.
Mike Johnston appeared to be the early frontrunner in the race before Hickenlooper jumped in. He led the field fundraising through the first half of the year, bringing in over $3M, and won endorsements from more than a dozen prominent Colorado Democrats, including former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart. Johnston served as a Colorado state senator from 2009 through 2017. Prior to serving in the state legislature, Johnston worked as an education advisor to Obama for America (2007-2008) and as the principal of Joan Farley Academy (2003-2005). From 1997 to 1999, Johnston taught English at Greenville High School in Mississippi. In 2018, Johnston ran for the Democratic nomination for Colorado governor but finished third in the primary with 25.52 percent of the vote. He announced his candidacy in January 2019.
Dustin Leitzel has worked at HCA Healthcare nearly 12 years. He began working for the company in 2007 as an advanced clinical pharmacy specialist and began working as a clinical/operations specialist in 2014. In March 2019, Colorado Sun reported that Leitzel was running as a “long shot” candidate. He did not raise any money in the second quarter of the year.
Alice Madden is the executive director at the Getches Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment. From 2001 to 2009, Madden was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives where she served as the House majority leader. Madden has also worked as a senior climate fellow at the Center for American Progress (2010-2011), as deputy chief of staff to Bill Ritter (2009-2011), and as the principal deputy assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (2013-2015). Madden entered the Senate race in May 2019.
Andrew Romanoff was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008, and served as the speaker of the House from 2005 to 2008. He has worked as the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado since 2015. In 2010, Romanoff lost a Democratic Senate primary to Sen. Michael Bennet. He ran for federal office again in 2014, but lost the election to represent Colorado’s 6th Congressional District in the House of Representatives to Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO). Romanoff announced his candidacy in February 2019. He finished second in fundraising for the first quarter of the year, but fell to the middle of the pack in the second quarter. Romanoff has tacked to the left since his announcement and has come out in favor of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
Stephany Rose Spaulding is a professor of women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs campus, a Baptist pastor, and political activist. She is also the founder of For Our Children’s Children Enterprises. In 2018, Rose lost a congressional challenge to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) by 18 points. She announced her Senate candidacy in April 2019.
John Walsh is a former U.S. attorney, working under the Obama administration in Colorado from 2010 to 2016. After receiving his law degree from Stanford University in 1986, Walsh worked for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles (1987-1995) and as a partner at Holland & Hart LLP (1995-1999). Most recently, Walsh has worked as a partner at WilmerHale, an international law firm. Walsh announced his candidacy in April 2019.
Michelle Ferrigno Warren is an executive non-profit employee and community organizer who currently serves as the advocacy & strategic engagement director for the Christian Community Development Association. She previously worked as a teacher in Dallas, TX, and helped found Open Door Ministries in Denver. Warren entered the senate primary in August 2019.
Angela Williams is a member of the Colorado state Senate, representing the 33rd District since 2017. In the Senate, Williams is the chair of the Business, Labor, & Technology Committee and the vice chair of the Local Government Committee. She is also a member of the Legislative Council. Williams is an entrepreneur and kas been the principal of AW Consulting Inc. since 2013. In March 2019, The Denver Post reported that Williams was looking at a possible senate bid and she officially kicked off her campaign in July 2019.
Trish Zornio is a lecturer at the University of Colorado, where she teaches behavioral neuroscience. From 2015 to 2017, she was the lead research and program coordinator at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Before announcing her candidacy in January 2019, Zornio spent more than a year crisscrossing the state to visit with voters in all 64 counties. In the first two quarters of the year, Zornio raised just over $70K.