U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper overcame a rocky month to defeat Andrew Romanoff in a Democratic primary Tuesday night, setting the stage for a November faceoff with Sen. Cory Gardner.
As of 7:35 p.m., Hickenlooper had 427,175 votes, or 60% of the total. Romanoff had accumulated 286,784 votes, 40%.
Hickenlooper has been the front-runner since he entered the race in August, following an unsuccessful presidential run. He dominated the fundraising contest, pulled in endorsements from top Democrats across the country, and consistently led in the polls during his 10-month primary campaign.
Tuesday’s victory is a win for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Party’s establishment, which convinced a reluctant Hickenlooper to run for the Senate seat, believing him to a be a safe bet to beat Gardner.
But Hickenlooper enters the four-month general election campaign bruised by a brutal June, which began with him defying a subpoena. He was then held in contempt by the Independent Ethics Commission, found in violation of ethics laws, and faced a constant stream of headlines about racial gaffes dating back years.
Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker and Mental Health Colorado president, was the favorite of progressives and grassroots activists due to his support for the Green New Deal climate plan and Medicare for All.
Hickenlooper begins the general election campaign with an edge over Gardner, a freshman senator from Yuma, due to the state’s recent Democratic tilt and the unpopularity of President Donald Trump here. On Monday, Trump reiterated his support for Gardner, whom he rallied with in Colorado Springs earlier this year.
“Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado is a GREAT Senator who always fights for the people of his state. He protects your (2nd Amendment), loves our Vets and Military, and cares deeply about our BEAUTIFUL public lands,” Trump tweeted. “Cory has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Voter turnout in the Democratic primary race Tuesday broke a state record for nonpresidential primaries. Theories for why include the coronavirus pandemic, the intense political atmosphere, and recent voter registration increases.
About 20 Democrats ran for U.S. Senate in the 2020 race, but many bowed out after Hickenlooper entered in August. Eight remained until the spring, when only the moderate Hickenlooper and the progressive Romanoff made their way onto the ballot. An eleventh-hour court challenge to add other candidates who blamed the coronavirus pandemic for signature-gathering difficulties was rejected.
The head-to-head bout between Hickenlooper and Romanoff started quietly, with Hickenlooper the presumptive leader, then tightened throughout June as Hickenlooper stumbled over ethics travails and racial gaffes. Still, the scant polling in the race showed Hickenlooper likely leading up to Election Day.
It was also in the final month that the race turned costly. Television ads worth more than $10 million saturated the airwaves, most of them either attacking Hickenlooper or defending him, and most of them funded by partisan groups outside Colorado. Hickenlooper kept his ads positive, and his allies criticized Romanoff for releasing an attack ad in the middle of the month.
The two candidates prioritized a similar trio of issues — health care, climate, and the economy — but laid out differing plans for dealing with them. Hickenlooper often cited his past record as governor and Denver’s mayor, while Romanoff more often focused on aspirational and ambitious plans for the future.
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