To get there, they walked past a lobby where members of the Sunrise Movement held a small protest of the Democrat who was not there — John Hickenlooper, the two-term governor and former candidate for president. When they got to the stage, they arranged themselves next to an empty chair with Hickenlooper's name on it. Before they started talking, activists led a brief chant of "Where's Hick?"
"Any Democrat running against Cory Gardner is slated to win," said Trish Zornio, one of the 11 Democrats running against Hickenlooper. "The data is on our side. You can pick the candidate that you like. It's a wonderful thing: A potted plant would probably win in November."
Colorado, a swing state where the Republican Party has lost a run of Trump-era elections, is one of the key 2020 battlegrounds for control of the Senate. In August, when national Democrats persuaded Hickenlooper to run — he had previously ruled it out — the party celebrated, confident in polling that showed the popular, moderate "Hick" far ahead of Gardner.
But Hickenlooper's choice turned the Senate primary from a jumble of credible candidates to something Democrats are getting used to: a front-runner who's not on board with the left's priorities and a pack of insurgents who can't win if they split the vote. And unlike the party's race for president, where Joe Biden has been out-fundraised by a number of opponents, Hickenlooper came into the race with a money advantage, long ties with labor unions and the clear support of the national party.
"In my analysis of getting into the race, I thought I could reach out to progressives, to women, to environmental groups, to unions," said Alice Madden, a former state House majority leader who, like most Democrats, has struggled to get attention. "Hickenlooper getting in has had the effect of them all saying, 'Well, gosh, maybe we'll just wait and see what happens.' And the longer people delay on endorsing, the more the momentum behind him is seemingly inevitable."
The primary epitomizes the left's struggle inside the Democratic Party. In the race for president, the left has succeeded in shaping the debate around health care, with Medicare-for-all now the focal point. It assigned new litmus tests on climate, with every candidate agreeing to reject energy industry money and most endorsing some version of the Green New Deal.
To enact any of that, activists need 218 votes in the House and at least 51 in the Senate. They are far from those numbers now, and in every Senate race Democrats think they could win next year — in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina — the Democrats leading in polls and backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee don't support the agenda of presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Feelings are especially raw in Colorado, where Hickenlooper has clashed with activists on energy policy, an issue that has grown to existential importance on the left. Elected governor in 2010, Hickenlooper allowed natural gas exploration and mining to expand in Colorado, a carrot-and-stick approach that helped pass some methane emissions regulations. That put him in constant conflict with environmental activists, who, if he became the party's nominee for Senate, would be pressured to send him to Washington.
"I am totally worried about this race, because people are going to be like: 'Hey, what's the difference between John Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner?' " said Joe Salazar, who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for attorney general and now directs the left-wing group Colorado Rising. (He is neutral in the Senate race.) "Look, because the DSCC jumped in, everyone thought that he was just the anointed one. But people are rising up against him now. I would invite him to come out to Broomfield, or Commerce City — to a place that's being fracked to death. Let's see how popular he is there."
Initially, with Hickenlooper seemingly committed to a White House bid, more than a dozen lesser-known Democrats piled in to challenge Gardner. The Republican, elected narrowly in 2014, had become less and less popular with Trump in office as his party declined locally. Gardner had won his first term with 983,891 votes; four years later, the GOP's gubernatorial candidate won 1,080,801 votes and lost by 10 points amid surging Democratic turnout.
Hickenlooper's decision to run for Senate, one week after he abandoned his presidential bid, made him an immediate favorite. Polling in August found him with 61 percent support in a massively crowded field. Two Democrats who'd attracted early money quickly left the race, leaving Hickenlooper with a more outwardly left-wing group of challengers. Each had the same path to victory: turning this Senate race into a cause, a chance for activists in Colorado and every other state to change their party.
The first candidate who took advantage of that story line was Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker with experience: He'd run an unsuccessful left-wing insurgent bid against Sen. Michael Bennet 10 years earlier. Within a week of Hickenlooper's announcement, Romanoff claimed that multiple consultants had walked away from his campaign, afraid of losing business if they challenged the DSCC. That 2010 run, and a 2014 campaign for the House, have helped Romanoff build a small but loyal base of supporters who want their fellow Democrats to see what they see.
"I voted for you," said Chris Kalfehn, 60, as Romanoff worked the room at a Saturday candidate forum in Denver.
"You have one last chance!" said Romanoff.
In an interview after the Denver candidate forum this week, Romanoff said that the consultant mess was a "hiccup" and that the campaign had gotten past it. It could be an advantage, he said, that he was "not making friends in D.C.," all while he was winning local endorsements and working to consolidate liberal voters.
"Whoever wins this nomination will instantly pick up the support from all the other candidates, and their teams, and progressives across the country," said Romanoff. "So I reject the idea that somehow you've got to elect the guy who's got the most money now. You'll have the money you need to win this race if you're willing to do the work. The real question is, do you have something to say? Can you actually rally the troops? Can you inspire your voters to come out?"
Hickenlooper, who skipped the weekend's forums but will attend others, acknowledges that the party's support came with downsides. "We are an intensely independent state, and if it could have been my choice, yeah, I probably would have waited," he said in an interview. "I would have preferred that they waited a few months. But that being said, they were looking at what they thought was the highest and best way to get a Democrat elected and take Cory Gardner's seat away from the Republicans. And so, they supported me. I think it's a great compliment."
On Tuesday, Hickenlooper's campaign announced that it had raised $2.1 million in the first six weeks of his candidacy, more than he'd raised in his final months as a presidential candidate. And in this primary, Hickenlooper's bigger advantage could be the size of his opposition. There are nearly nine months until the primary; before that, candidates will need to circulate petitions, then compete at the state assembly, a convention that determines who makes it onto the ballot and what order they appear in.
Hickenlooper's many challengers expect that to sort out as they campaign around the state. There's not much talk, right now, about consolidation. At the climate forum, environmental activist Diana Bray criticized candidates who had made political peace with the energy industry — a veiled reference to Romanoff. Eight of the non-Hickenlooper Democrats are women, and Colorado has never sent a woman to the Senate, an issue that doesn't help Romanoff.
That dynamic was helping candidates with less electoral success in their pasts than Hickenlooper or Romanoff — like Stephany Rose Spaulding, who had run unsuccessfully for Congress in a deep red district last year, or Lorena Garcia, a liberal activist who tells audiences that she would abolish ICE and that her "policies are the same" as presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.).
On Saturday, after a three-hour candidate forum with several knocks on the absent Hickenlooper, Garcia headed out to a nearby suburb to campaign for local candidates. After dropping off literature, Garcia talked to Democrats, at their doors, about her own campaign.
"It can be a really good education for voters," Garcia said. "You have lots of time to explain this. Sure, you can elect somebody for president. But you need to put people in the Senate who are going to uphold that person's vision."
She dropped another candidate's leaflet in a door, then added one of hers. "You don't need to nominate a has-been."
The candidate who won statewide in Colorado in 2018 was originally misidentified. This has been corrected.
"Sanders allies urge him to slow down and show a personal side in the aftermath of his heart attack," by Sean Sullivan and Chelsea Janes
Harry Reid, among others, wonder whether Sanders should do fewer rallies.
"Warren stands by account of being pushed out of her first teaching job because of pregnancy," by Zak Hudak and Bo Erickson
The clear yet confusing story that makes up a big part of Warren's stump speech.
"Trump’s 2016 campaign was run on a shoestring. His reelection machine is huge — and armed with consultants," by Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy
What a few hundred million dollars can do for a campaign.
"‘I Gave the Other Guy a Shot,’" by Trip Gabriel
Northwest Pennsylvania voters who gave Trump a try are mixed on whether they'd do it again.
"Will Medicare-for-all hurt the middle class? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders struggle with questions about its impact," by Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan
The tax question that won't die.
DEMS IN DISARRAY
Anyone who read "A Fighting Chance," Warren's first political memoir, read the story of how she stopped teaching special-needs students.
"By the end of the school year, I was pretty obviously pregnant," Warren wrote in 2014. "The principal did what I think a lot of principals did back then — wished me good luck, didn't ask me back for the next school year, and hired someone else for the job."
Five and a half years later, before a Friday night crowd in San Diego, Warren told the same story, with a few new flourishes.
“I loved those babies,” she said of her students. “I still remember their faces.” Then the twist: “By the end of my first year in teaching, I was visibly pregnant. The principal did what principals did in those days: wished me luck and hired someone else for the job.”
It's a foundational story for Warren, which was why danger loomed for her over the weekend when the story came into question. First, in a tweet, the Jacobin writer Meagan Day pointed to a 2007 speech in which Warren described her departure from teaching in a different way. (Day is co-writing a book about how democratic socialism can advance from the Sanders presidential campaigns.)
"I did that for a year," Warren said of teaching, "and then that summer, I actually didn't have the education courses, so I was on an emergency certificate, it was called."
Day's initial point was that the experience of Warren, who tells audiences that she had a "calling" to become a public school teacher, didn't exactly square with the short time she spent teaching. Over the next few days, the story took on different shapes. After Day's tweet caught fire, the Republican National Committee sent links to the 2007 speech to reporters. Mediaite, followed by a series of conservative media outlets, reportedly flatly that Warren had "lied" about pregnancy costing her a job. And on Monday afternoon, the Washington Free Beacon published the minutes of meetings in which the Riverside, N.J., board of education first confirmed that Warren had been rehired and then, two months later, said that she had resigned.
Warren, whose early campaign struggled to recover from her past claims of Native American heritage, had been much more ready for this story. It had obtained the Riverside minutes earlier this year. Last month, before any of the new speculation about her teaching career, the campaign had been cooperating with CBS News on a story that explored whether or not she was "shown the door," as she sometimes put it. But the other outlets' stories moved faster than expected, and Warren went on camera with CBS News, supplementing that with tweets in which she stood by her personal narrative.
“When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize. By June I was visibly pregnant — and the principal told me the job I'd already been promised for the next year would go to someone else,” she tweeted. “This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination — but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We can fight back by telling our stories. I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.”
Any campaign that becomes competitive deals with scrutiny at this level. The Warren campaign's response was fast, but it did not stop the initial speculation about her truthfulness. By Tuesday afternoon, the takes on Warren had fallen close to partisan lines, with conservative media portraying it as another round of possible biography inflation (Fox News: "Warren faces mounting questions on another part of her personal story") and liberal or nonpartisan media portraying it as the candidate debunking accusations (NBC News: "Elizabeth Warren stands by account of pregnancy discrimination"). On social media, people who both do and do not support Warren chimed in with accounts of mothers, or female relatives, or themselves losing jobs because of pregnancy.
"This happened to women ALL the time... why the attacks on Elizabeth Warren?" tweeted Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Many women would also leave knowing they would be fired."
The Warren campaign avoided, for now, a debacle along the lines of the DNA test. Among other campaigns, there was some frustration at how the Riverside minutes, initially packaged as evidence to debunk Warren, ended up matching her timeline, especially after contemporary documentation of how pregnant women did not have true job protection until several years later. (The 2007 video, in which she blows past the reasons she stopped teaching, had looked more problematic for her — less so after they learned details of the school district's decision.)
The latest on the impeachment inquiry:
- White House says it will not cooperate with House impeachment inquiry
- Democrats to subpoena Gordon Sondland, say Trump’s move to block deposition amounts to obstruction
- Poll: Majority of Americans say they endorse opening House impeachment inquiry of Trump
- Giuliani says he ‘can’t imagine’ administration officials will appear before Intelligence Committee
- What’s coming next
It’s official: The fifth Democratic debate, with the highest entry threshold yet, will be held Nov. 20 — co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. To qualify for the debate, in Georgia, Democrats will need to prove by midnight on Nov.13 that they attracted 160,000 donations and polled at 3 percent or higher in four polls, or at 5 percent or higher in two polls of the first four primary states.
Truth in Politics, "My Chance." An independent group in Louisiana is doing what Republican candidates have been trying for months: Asking how Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards could have hired Johnny Anderson, a former deputy chief of staff, despite a previous sexual harassment investigation. Anderson was later fired after a new claim against him. This ad, complementing a Republican Governors Association-backed spot, stars Anderson's final accuser, identified only as Juanita W; her full name is Juanita Washington.
"John Bel says people over politics?" Washington asks, repeating the governor's slogan. "Not when you're a woman like me."
John Bel Edwards, "We Know Gov. Edwards." The response to the final-week ad assault on the Anderson fracas is a common one: a parade of women vouching for the Democrat accused of not caring about them. "When an employee committed sexual harassment, Governor Edwards demanded his resignation within hours," one supporter says in the spot. Nothing much has changed about the Anderson story in the past few years; the question is whether Edwards had recovered politically because the scandal fell out of the news or because voters assessed it and didn't blame him.
Ethics in government (Washington Post-Schar School, 1,007 voters)
Does President Trump uphold adequate standards for ethics in government?
No — 60%
Yes — 35%
Would a President Joe Biden uphold adequate standards for ethics in government?
He would — 47%
He would not — 38%
A growing number of voters are comfortable with impeachment and even more of them are comfortable saying that the president created the conditions for investigations with bad behavior. What The Post's polling also shows is how the partisan sentiments around this have hardened. In just two weeks, a solid majority of Republicans have become convinced that Biden, who was never previously accused of corruption in a half-century political career, has loose ethics.
President Trump and impeachment (Quinnipiac, 1,483 registered voters)
Do you approve of the way the president is handling the impeachment inquiry?
Disapprove — 57%
Approve — 34%
Is the impeachment inquiry legitimate, or a witch hunt?
Legitimate — 51%
Witch hunt — 43%
Did the president press foreign leaders for information on Biden to hurt him, or to expose corruption?
Hurt Biden — 48%
Expose corruption — 33%
One of the more interesting moves Republicans made after the impeachment inquiry began was to lay down a challenge: Democrats should hold an up-or-down impeachment vote. This poll, which also finds Trump trailing in a general election against the Democrats' three current polling leaders, finds the highest level of public anger at how the president is handling the investigation. Asked if he was really trying to expose corruption, asked if he's handling the accusations well, a chunk of his otherwise-stable support walks away.
Bernie Sanders. He introduced a new campaign finance agenda that would quickly affect how Democrats fund their 2020 convention and election plans, banning corporate contributions for the nominating ceremony in Milwaukee. That's something Sanders could do as a nominee, with a majority of Democratic delegates; other parts of the plan, like national public financing elections, would require a governing majority.
Kamala Harris. She introduced a "children's justice" agenda with six months of paid leave for new parents. Current federal law doesn't mandate any leave whatsoever.
Elizabeth Warren. She's returning to the trail with a Wednesday stop in Orangeburg, S.C., for an appearance with House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, promoting legislation that they've worked on together.
Steve Bullock. From Thursday through Sunday, he'll stump in New Hampshire and Iowa for a "Great Equalizers" policy tour. Those equalizers, in case there's a test later: public education, public lands and "public participation in our democracy."
Andrew Yang. He held a meeting with Asian American critics last week, impressing an attendee, Frank Shyong, who published a column about the outcome. "I’m a person of our community who I believe understands the concerns of the community and wants very deeply and passionately to represent them to the best of my ability," Yang said. The candidate will head to New Hampshire on Thursday, campaigning there through Sunday.
Marianne Williamson. She's in South Carolina on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting with a "Politics and Pints" appearance with the Charleston Post and Courier.
Michael F. Bennet. He told Fox News, when asked about the Warren pregnancy story, that candidates were all “going to go through this X-ray of the soul" and that "the people who have been consistent and truthful about where they are, are going to stand up well."
Tulsi Gabbard. In an interview with Reason, she took some credit for Harris’s decline in the polls, which began after the second debate and Gabbard’s two rounds of attacks on the California senator. “I'm for the people, man," Gabbard replies, laughing. "I was speaking the truth, and speaking for a lot of people."
... two days until CNN's LGBT policy forum
... four days until Louisiana's gubernatorial primary
... seven days until the fourth Democratic debate