NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, May 29th, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Can Democrats show Colorado’s Cory Gardner the door?

While peo­ple across the coun­try are mon­i­tor­ing the unfold­ing race for the White House between incum­bent Don­ald Trump and pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Joe Biden, Democ­rats are keen­ly aware that the White House is not the only prize they need to win in Novem­ber. Unless Democ­rats win the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Sen­ate, any Biden pres­i­den­cy will be faced with grind­ing oppo­si­tion from the out­set – as Barack Oba­ma found out to his cost.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is way more pop­u­lar than the Repub­li­can Par­ty is in most states across the coun­try, and there­fore high­ly like­ly to win the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but the Unit­ed States Sen­ate is anoth­er mat­ter.

The Sen­ate is, in many ways, the ulti­mate anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic ger­ry­man­der.

Thanks to the fact that each state gets two sen­a­tors regard­less of pop­u­la­tion, it takes the sup­port a tiny frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion (less than 10%) to elect a major­i­ty of the sen­a­tors. Since the Repub­li­can Par­ty is strongest in states with tiny pop­u­la­tions – the red­dest state in the union, Wyoming, is also the small­est by pop­u­la­tion – they have a big built-in advan­tage.

Nev­er­the­less, the 2020 Sen­ate map looks promis­ing for Democ­rats. The Repub­li­cans have to defend almost twice as many seats as the Democ­rats, and all the seats rat­ed as “toss-ups” are held by Repub­li­cans.

One of the most vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can sen­a­tors is Cory Gard­ner of Col­orado.

Gard­ner won the pur­ple state in an upset vic­to­ry in 2014 by promis­ing to be “a new kind of Repub­li­can.” Six years lat­er, Col­orado has moved even fur­ther away from the GOP, and Gard­ner has proved him­self to be more like a same-old-same-old Repub­li­can. Dur­ing ral­lies in Feb­ru­ary, Trump and Gard­ner swapped com­pli­ments, with Trump claim­ing that “Cory was with us all the way.”

While this may help Gard­ner win a future job in the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion, it will not win him many votes – Col­oradans over­whelm­ing­ly loathe Trump.

Recent polls of Colorado’s U.S. Sen­ate race show Gardner’s weak­ness in stark fash­ion; he is trail­ing the lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tender by around 17% (although these polls may be out­liers).

John Hickenlooper speaks to Iowans during his presidential campaign

John Hick­en­loop­er speaks to Iowans dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

That lead­ing Demo­c­rat is for­mer-Gov­­er­nor John Hick­en­loop­er, who spent most of last year fruit­less­ly pur­su­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­den­cy, only to bow out in August when his quixot­ic cam­paign final­ly ran out of cash.

By the time he dropped out, his staffers were prac­ti­cal­ly beg­ging him to con­sid­er a run for the Sen­ate. When he turned his pres­i­den­tial run into a Sen­ate cam­paign, Hick­en­loop­er led Gard­ner in the polls by dou­ble dig­its, and his lead has only increased. His odds have been boost­ed by endorse­ments from pow­er­ful fig­ures and groups with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

How­ev­er, many pro­gres­sives have been hes­i­tant to throw­ their sup­port behind Hick­en­loop­er. The for­mer Gov­er­nor might have a “D” next to his name, but he rep­re­sents the neolib­er­al wing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

As Colorado’s gov­er­nor, Hick­en­loop­er sup­port­ed the oil and gas indus­try, fight­ing against mea­sures to reg­u­late the frack­ing indus­try. In 2013, he pres­sured Democ­rats to vote against a repeal of the death penal­ty. In the same year, he opposed a civ­il rights bill that was designed to tack­le work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Dur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, Hick­en­loop­er made no efforts to reach out to the pro­gres­sives – in fact, he used cam­paign events to com­pare them to Josef Stal­in.

With record like that, it is hard to know whether replac­ing Cory Gard­ner with John Hick­en­loop­er in the Sen­ate will be worth the effort; there is no guar­an­tee that Hick­en­loop­er will help to pass sen­si­ble pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion, and strong evi­dence to sug­gest he will stand in its way, espe­cial­ly if the promi­nent pro­gres­sives on the Biden campaign’s recent­ly announced “joint task forces” use their posi­tion to influ­ence the poli­cies of a future Biden admin­is­tra­tion.

Hick­en­loop­er is not the only Demo­c­rat in the run­ning for Colorado’s Sen­ate seat, how­ev­er. He faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry from the for­mer speak­er of the state assem­bly, Andrew Romanoff, who has tak­en pains to argue that Gard­ner and Hick­en­loop­er rep­re­sent vir­tu­al­ly the same con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da.

Romanoff has made the Green New Deal the cor­ner­stone of his cam­paign – a smart move in a state where near­ly 80% of vot­ers want Col­orado to move to 100% renew­able ener­gy – and has gar­nered admi­ra­tion and endorse­ments from activist groups includ­ing Our Rev­o­lu­tion and the Sun­rise Move­ment.

While John Hick­en­loop­er has con­sid­er­able advan­tages over Romanoff (the sup­port of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment, high name-recog­ni­­tion, and a large cam­paign chest), Romanoff has cre­at­ed a sense of momen­tum in recent weeks by win­ning a series of nom­i­nat­ing events con­vinc­ing­ly to get his name on the pri­ma­ry bal­lot.

Who­ev­er wins the pri­ma­ry (which is sched­uled for June 30), Democ­rats should not take vic­to­ry for grant­ed. Although the nation­al envi­ron­ment is a good one for Democ­rats on paper, COVID-19 has changed the polit­i­cal equa­tion.

The Democ­rats can no longer rely on enthu­si­as­tic young vol­un­teers to bring their mes­sage door to door, as hap­pened in the 2018 midterm elec­tions.

At the same time, Repub­li­cans find that their supe­ri­or fund­ing (the prod­uct of ram­pant polit­i­­cal-cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion) gives them an advan­tage in polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing – adver­tis­ing that will be seen by more peo­ple than ever before, as the Great Lock­down large­ly con­fines peo­ple to their homes.

This dynam­ic was evi­dent in last Tuesday’s spe­cial elec­tions, where Repub­li­cans gained two House seats. They out­spent the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates in each case.

As well as hav­ing more mon­ey than his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents (he cur­rent­ly has $9.6 mil­lion to Hick­en­loop­er and Romanoff’s com­bined $5.7 mil­lion), Cory Gard­ner has the advan­tage of being an unde­ni­ably skill­ful politi­cian.

He was described in a pro­file piece by Politi­co as “sil­ver-tongued” and “high­ly dis­ci­plined with­out sound­ing pro­grammed.” Andrew Romanoff agreed with the assess­ment: “A lot of Democ­rats under­es­ti­mate his skill as a politician…people have said to me ‘Cory is toast,’ but that’s com­plete­ly wrong.”

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One Comment

  1. As Clin­ton and Oba­ma have painful­ly found out, the par­ty in the White House his­tor­i­cal­ly has lost big in midterm elec­tions. I real­ize this is not a midterm, but it adds urgency to the agen­da if we cap­ture the White House and the Sen­ate in 2020.

    # by Mike Barer :: May 29th, 2020 at 7:24 PM