Primaries in Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah Pick Swing-Seat Nominees

Colorado Democrats on Tuesday will select their nominee to oppose Sen. Cory Gardner in a November election that will help determine the Senate majority.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is trying to fend off former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a more liberal contender.

Also worth watching are Republican primaries in Oklahoma and Utah districts that Democrats captured in 2018. In another Utah district, the winner of the Republican primary will be overwhelmingly favored to succeed a retiring congressman and join the 117th Congress in January.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is frontrunner in Democratic Senate primary

Colorado and Utah conduct elections by mail. Oklahoma voters are permitted to cast absentee ballots by mail for any reason.

Here’s a look at races to watch:

Colorado

Senate (Hillary Clinton won Colorado 48%-43%): Hickenlooper, Colorado’s governor from 2011 to 2019 and Denver’s mayor from 2003 to 2011, has been the strong favorite to win the Democratic Senate nomination since he declared his candidacy in August. He jumped in the race after repeated denials of any interest in serving in the chamber.

Hickenlooper’s candidacy nearly cleared the crowded field. Romanoff, who lost bids for the Senate in 2010 and the House in 2014, remained.

It hasn’t been an easy path for Hickenlooper of late. In early June, Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission said Hickenlooper ran afoul of the state’s gift-ban law when he accepted transportation and meals from corporations.

He’s also had some verbal stumbles, saying at a candidate forum on racial justice that “Black Lives Matter means that every life matters.” Hickenlooper said at a later debate that he “stepped on my own words.”

“Black lives matter,” Hickenlooper said. “There is a time where we have to step back and recognize that slavery is a nagging, persistent shame of this country that’s denied the promise of equality for far too long to too many people.”

One of Hickenlooper’s recent ads promoted endorsements from Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the only two Black Democrats in the Senate, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a progressive icon.

Hickenlooper said climate change is “the single largest existential threat this planet has ever faced” and called for reducing emissions through closing coal plants, transitioning to more electric vehicles, and innovations in agriculture and industry.

Romanoff campaigned on a progressive platform including a Medicare for All health-insurance system, reparations for Black Americans, and dismantling the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“I don’t want to wait for some slow evolution that eventually brings care to everyone,” Romanoff said about health care at a candidate debate. “We need to act now.”

He raised all of his money from individual donors and none from political action committees. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee endorsed Romanoff.

Hickenlooper had $5.9 million in cash on hand as of June 10, compared with $795,000 for Romanoff.

Supporting Hickenlooper is Let’s Turn Colorado Blue, a new super PAC that aired English- and Spanish-language ads attacking Romanoff for forging a compromise with Republicans on a 2006 immigration measure when he was Colorado speaker. Colorado is 22% Hispanic. The super PAC was created on June 16 and spent at least $1.4 million on the race, though it won’t have to disclose its donors until after the primary.

Hickenlooper’s allies also include Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC aligned with Senate Democratic leaders. It aired ads defending Hickenlooper’s ethics from attack ads by the National Republican Senatorial Committee while unfavorably linking Gardner to President Donald Trump, who lost Colorado in the 2016 election. The super PAC’s spots didn’t mention Romanoff.

Gardner, who’s seeking a second term and is unopposed in the primary, has promoted his work on a major public-lands package and to obtain personal protective equipment for Colorado amid the pandemic. Earlier this month, Gardner aired an ad that showed him watching footage of Hickenlooper dismissing the idea of running for the Senate when he was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Gardner had $9.3 million in on hand as of June 10.

3rd District (Pueblo, Grand Junction; Trump 52%-40%): Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state representative and county commissioner, is seeking a rematch with Rep. Scott Tipton after losing to him by 8 percentage points in 2018 in a vast district that envelops western Colorado and sweeps south to Pueblo.

Bush would first have to win a Democratic primary against James Iacino, a political newcomer and the executive chairman of his family’s seafood distribution company.

Tipton, who’s seeking a sixth term, is opposed in the primary by Lauren Boebert, who runs a restaurant with servers who openly carry firearms. Boebert attracted attention in 2019 for confronting Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke over his gun-control policies when he made a campaign stop in Colorado.

6th District (Aurora, Centennial; Clinton 50%-41%): Neither Rep. Jason Crow (D) nor Republican Steve House, a businessman, is opposed in the primary in this diverse district in suburban Denver.

Crow, who decisively defeated Rep. Mike Coffman (R) in the 2018 election, is chairman of the Small Business Innovation and Workforce Development Subcommittee and was one of the House managers in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.

Oklahoma

Senate (Trump won Oklahoma 65%-29%): Sen. Jim Inhofe (R), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is favored to win re-election in one of the nation’s most Republican states. A TV ad for his re-election campaign referred to Inhofe as “a conservative who fights for strong military and oil and gas” and “Oklahoma’s stable rock in turbulent times.”

The best-funded Democrat is Abby Broyles, a lawyer and former Oklahoma City television journalist. She was critical of Trump’s decision to hold a political rally June 20 in Tulsa amid the pandemic. A Democrat last won a Senate election in Oklahoma in 1990.

2nd District (Muskogee, Claremore, McAlester; Trump 73%-23%): Four-term Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R) is in a stronger position than in the 2018 primary, when he was held to 54% against three opponents after breaking a pledge to serve three House terms. Neither of Mullin’s two opponents in this year’s primary filed campaign-finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.

5th District (most of Oklahoma City; Edmond; Trump 53%-40%): Nine Republicans lined up to oppose Rep. Kendra Horn (D), whose ouster of Steve Russell (R) was one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 election.

State Sen. Stephanie Bice is the best-funded Republican, with $1.1 million in receipts through June 10. Her donors include Maggie’s List, which works to elect conservative women to Congress, and some Republican women in Congress including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Club for Growth Action, a super PAC favoring limited government, aired TV ads critical of Bice’s record on taxes.

Bice aligned with Trump on policy along with her major rivals: Terry Neese, a businesswoman; Janet Barresi, a former state school superintendent and dentist; and David Hill, who owns an auto parts manufacturing company.

“I’m a manufacturer,” Hill says in an ad. “Like President Trump. I’m no politician.”

None of the other five candidates reported raising more than $60,000.

If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in an Aug. 25 runoff.

Horn is opposed in the primary by Tom Guild, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) who raised little money. Horn has focused on military housing issues on the Armed Services Committee and also serves on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, where she leads the Space Subcommittee. She received an 87% score from the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2019, tied for the second-highest mark among House Democrats.

Read More:Big GOP Primary Spending to Face 2018’s Most Surprising Winner

Utah

1st District (Ogden, Layton, Logan; Trump 50%-22%): The winner of a four-candidate Republican primary will be strongly favored in November to succeed nine-term Rep. Rob Bishop (R), the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee who’s running for lieutenant governor.

Katie Witt, the mayor of Kaysville in Davis County, received donations from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List PAC and Reps. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Carol Miller (R-W.Va.).

“When I saw AOC get elected in 2018, I’m like, ‘How can somebody who’s running on socialist principles have a seat in the Congress of the United States?’ And that’s really what got me to run,” Witt said at a candidate debate, referring to the progressive first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Blake Moore, a former U.S. foreign service officer who played quarterback at Utah State University, aired a television ad that said he “was trusted by America’s intelligence community.”

Kerry Gibson previously served as a state representative, county commissioner, and Utah agriculture commissioner. “Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” he said at the debate.

Bob Stevenson is a Davis County commissioner and former mayor of Layton, just south of Hill Air Force Base. An ad for Stevenson said he lowered taxes and stopped spending hikes as county commissioner.

All four Republicans partially self-financed their campaigns.

4th District (West Jordan, South Jordan, parts of Sandy & Salt Lake City; Trump 39%-32%): Four Republicans are vying to oppose Rep. Ben McAdams (D), who’s defending his seat for the first time after unseating Mia Love (R) in 2018.

The best-funded Republicans are Burgess Owens, a retired professional football player, and Kim Coleman, a state representative.

Owens’ donors included Black America’s PAC, which works to elect more Black Republicans to office. Coleman said in a candidate debate she cast “strong constitutional conservative votes” during six years in the Utah legislature. She received political donations from Love, the Susan B. Anthony List PAC, and the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus.

Trent Christensen, the CEO of a venture capital company, raised money for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Jay McFarland said his 20 years as a radio talk show host “allowed me to hone my skills and it has prepared me to articulate a message of conservatism.”

Utah’s 4th leans Republican, though there was a significant anti-Trump vote in the 2016 election for Evan McMullin, a Utah-born independent who took 22%.

McAdams has focused in Congress on reducing suicides and demanding more fiscal responsibility from both parties. In July 2019, McAdams was among 16 House Democrats who voted against a two-year budget accord that raised spending caps and suspended the federal debt limit. He opposed Nancy Pelosi for speaker at the start of the 116th Congress and voted instead for Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a fellow Blue Dog Democrat with moderate leanings.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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