Arapahoe County Democrats had plenty to celebrate at the party’s biennial reorganizational meeting on Monday at Cherry Creek High School.
Not only did the traditionally Republican county continue its tilt toward Democrats — President Barack Obama won the bellwether county by 10 points over Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and Democrats retook the state House in part by ousting an Aurora Republican — but what some are already anticipating could be the most hotly contested congressional race in the country next year is taking shape there.
Newly minted Arapahoe County Democrat Andrew Romanoff — the former speaker of the state House moved from Denver into a southwest corner of Aurora at the beginning of February — brought down the house with a stump speech he’s been delivering to area Democrats since announc-ing his run against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the Aurora Republican who squeaked past a little-known challenger by just 2 points in the last election.
D-Aurora, settle in for the Arapahoe County Democrats’ reorg on Feb. 11.
After noting that he attended Obama’s inauguration last month, Romanoff told the crowd that there was more to do after helping reelect the president.
“If there was one thing we’ve learned from the president’s first term, it’s this: It’s not enough to elect a man of real talent and courage and vision — not enough, in other words, to put a president of those qualities in the White House, if the same qualities are not matched at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they’re not,” Romanoff said.
“We need a Congress, we need a group of men and women who are committed to constructive action, not a rubber-stamp for the president, but a partner in progress. We need a different Congress, a different House of Representatives. We need new leadership, especially in the 6th Congressional District.”
Although the election is still 21 months off, Romanoff appears to have a clear path to the nomination following the announcement this week that former state Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, won’t be running in a primary.
After more than a month of publicly weighing a bid, Middleton said this week she had concluded that campaign finance laws precluded her from entering a federal race while keeping her job as president of Emerge America, a group that encourages Democratic women to run for office. Last week, state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, withdrew her name from contention for the nomination after briefly floating the possibility.
The congressional district is dominated by Arapahoe County — Coffman’s Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Joe Miklosi, carried the county by 3 points — but also includes a portion of Adams County and heavily Republican precincts in northern Douglas County. It’s nearly evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
Romanoff, who lost a primary to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010, took some swings at what he portrayed as obstructionist Republicans in Congress by referencing his tenure in the state House, which was controlled by Republicans for his first two terms.
“The real test of our progress, I think, as a party and as a country, is our willingness to reward good ideas wherever they come from. I served under a majority party for four years, the other team, that punished good ideas when they came from our side of the aisle. In fact, they played a little game — they took the best ideas we could come up with, they killed them under our sponsorship, and then they reintroduced them under Republican names,” Romanoff said.
Then he made a pitch for an activist government, contrary to the approach he said the modern GOP takes.
“Republicans campaign on the argument that government can’t work. Then they get elected and prove it. You and I share a different belief,” Romanoff told the Democrats. “We know there are some things that we can do together, like teach a child, or treat an illness, or fight a fire, or pave a pothole — things that we just can’t do as well or as easily on our own.”
State Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, said after the meeting that he was confident that Arapahoe County was evolving into a consistently Democratic area.
“This is just the beginning,” he said, after noting how Democrats had dominated the vote in the county. “People are still excited after the 2012 race. People want to stay involved, people want to stay engaged.”
Democrats hold an advantage among active registered voters in the county, with 103,150, or 35 percent; Republicans have 98,171, or 33 percent, and unaffiliated voters have 89,063, or 30 percent.
Arapahoe Democrats also elected party leadership for two-year terms: John Buckley will return as chair; Jimmy Naccaratto takes over as 1st vice chair; Jean Greenberg returns as 2nd vice chair; Ana Maria Peters-Ruddick will be secretary; and Matt Salek returns as treasurer. County Democrats also elected a slate of so-called bonus members from the county to serve on the state central committee, which picks state party leadership at the beginning of next month.
Unlike state Republicans, who have contests for every one of the statewide elected party offices, state Democrats are anticipating that the current slate of candidates will run unopposed for the top party offices. Chairman Rick Palacio, 1st vice chair Beverly Ryken and secretary Carolyn Boller are all seeking another term; Barbara Jones is running for 2nd vice chair and Christopher Ott is running for treasurer.
State Democrats have their annual fundraiser on March 2, the night of their state reorganizational meeting, at the Marriott City Center Hotel in downtown Denver. The keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and the evening will feature a tribute to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.