For the first time, candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado stood before a crowd and made the case that voters should elect them next year in what promises to be one of the nation’s most closely watched congressional races.
Nine Democratic candidates met with more than a hundred liberal activists and voters late Sunday afternoon in a forum in Denver’s Barnum Park, then made brief remarks to the crowd on topics ranging from immigration to climate change to impeachment.
“The 2020 election will be the most consequential of our lives,” said John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney.
Each candidate drew a policy topic at random from a box. For Walsh, it was immigration, and he touted his law firm’s work helping the families of detainees at Aurora’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. For former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, it was the filibuster.
“I’ll be brief: I think we ought to eliminate it. It doesn’t serve a useful purpose and it’s blocking progress and all of the core changes that we need,” Romanoff said of the Senate procedure.
Mike Johnston, the race’s early fundraising front-runner, drew the topic of the Electoral College and said he backs reforms to it.
“I support the popular vote and I think we ought to believe the idea that one person, one vote is what this country was built on,” he said.
Lorena Garcia, a local activist, grabbed the day’s most attention-attracting topic: impeachment. She said America’s electoral system prioritizes voting over more drastic actions, but investigations of powerful people are sometimes needed.
“If we can’t vote them out because it’s too long from now and they’re destroying our democracy right now in office, then we have an obligation to investigate their criminal behavior, and if that leads to impeachment, then that’s what it leads to,” Garcia said, without mentioning the president.
Stephany Spaulding, a professor and Baptist pastor, drew the topic of the census and used it to loudly denounce the U.S.’s history of Native American genocide and persecution of minorities.
“I need people to leave today not just hearing some sound bites, not just feeling good because we did a thing in a park and had some candidates,” she said. “But that we reflect on the way in which the census itself has been recorded disregards the fact that the land we stand on was once occupied by the Arapaho. That the Cheyenne and the Utes in this state were forcibly removed.”
Ellen Burnes, a Colorado State University finance professor, was told to speak about the Supreme Court and said the court must uphold women’s rights and immigrants’ rights. Alice Madden, a former U.S. Energy Department official, drew the topic of China.
“America used to be the country of ideas. China has taken that over,” Madden said. “They have more patents issued every year than we do. Of course, there are big problems with them illegally hacking things and then sending them back here and around the world for cheaper.”
Diana Bray, a climate activist, was presented with a topic she knows well: the so-called Green New Deal, a progressive climate change plan in Congress. Bray said she would go even further than the Green New Deal to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
Dan Baer, the last candidate to speak, drew the topic of reproductive rights, which has become a major issue among Democratic candidates in recent weeks. He said recent restrictions on abortion in conservative states “are aimed at overturning Roe vs. Wade.”
Trish Zornio, a Superior scientist, could not attend Sunday’s forum due to a recent car crash that seriously injured her mother. A campaign surrogate spoke briefly about the importance of sending a scientist to the U.S. Senate in 2020.
For voters in attendance, the event was an early opportunity to hear from the Democratic contenders on issues that matter the most to them.
“This was the first time I heard from them all face-to-face,” said Laura Packard, a Denver small business owner and cancer survivor who is focused on health care. “I don’t know if the candidates who are in today are still going to be running next June and there are probably people who aren’t here who will be running then. So, it’s a little early to be making any decisions.”
Criticisms of incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, were common. Activists erected a cardboard cutout of the senator, which became a popular spot for selfies. Kyle Kohli, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, said the forum showed Democrats’ extremism.
“This weekend’s first Senate Democrat primary forum made one thing perfectly clear: the days of so-called ‘moderate’ Colorado Democrats are officially over,” Kohli said in a statement. “From silencing Colorado’s voice in presidential elections to instituting government-run health care and the Green New Deal, it’s clear this primary is quickly becoming a race to the extreme left.”