Even though Andrew Romanoff’s 6th Congressional District campaign staff is stocked with veterans of previous Romanoff runs — notable for massive volunteer participation and enthusiasm — staffers say the buzz about the Democrat’s campaign this year is already reaching the frenetic level not usually found until much closer to the election.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re seven months away (from Election Day) in this office, it feels like the election is around the corner,” says Romanoff campaign communications director Denise Baron. “Things are going at a pretty high pace.” But in the coming months, she says with a sigh, especially once summer begins, the pace is only going to increase as one of the most competitive congressional races in the country hits the home stretch.
“Andrew is often the last one to leave the office at the end of the day,” Baron says. “He’s the one who turns off the lights.”
Romanoff is challenging three-term U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican who has been winning elections — to the state House and Senate and as state treasurer and secretary of state before he won election to Congress — for more than two decades in a district that divided evenly between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. While Coffman first won the seat when it was heavily Republican, after redistricting for the 2012 election it turned into the state’s toss-up seat; and former state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, came within 2 points of unseating the Republican.
On a recent Friday, a dozen key staffers huddled for the weekly lunch-time staff meeting with the candidate — Baron says it’s the only time during the week the various components of the campaign get to hear what the others are doing — and then got busy again organizing volunteers, contacting voters and raising money.
An illustrated chalkboard charts progress toward Romanoff for Congress fundraising goals at the Democrat’s campaign headquarters on April 4 in Aurora.
“We’re all going in so many directions during the day, it’s rare that more than two of us in the room at same time,” Baron laughs.
“It’s really high energy,” she adds. “It’s almost exhausting, in a good way.”
“We’re trying to build a big tent here,” Romanoff told The Colorado Statesman recently. “What I’ve found from conversations I’ve had over the last year is a deep dissatisfaction with the way things work — or don’t work — in Washington. The bigger challenge, in some ways, is convincing folks not that we can’t do worse, they get that, but that we can do better.”
And they’re succeeding, at least measured by the response his campaign has generated among activists and supporters. The campaign has some 150 volunteers who are active at least once a week or every two weeks and counts more than 1,200 volunteers who have pitched in since the campaign launched.
The Romanoff campaign is headquartered in a compact office building near South Havana Street and East Dartmouth Avenue in Aurora, near the geographic center of the district, which extends to Brighton and portions of east-central Adams County, includes all of Aurora, and takes in eastern portions of urban Arapahoe County and the Highlands Ranch portion of Douglas County. The Coffman campaign office is just two blocks away, inside an office tower that looms high to the east.
Romanoff’s core campaign team includes campaign manager Anne Collins, Baron, finance director Alex Raposo and her assistant Ryan Flynn, data manager Paul Laden, call time manager LeAnn Joswick, volunteer coordinator Mandy Hennesy, scheduler Michaela Hennig, and outreach director Pilar Chapa, who works with constituency groups and makes sure the candidate gets to events in the Latino, Asian, African immigrant and African American communities.
Collins has worked on Romanoff’s campaigns since his first state house race in 2000. Others on the team have also been active in Romanoff campaigns over the years, including Joswick and Hennesy. Raposo has experience working on campaigns in Colorado, Wisconsin and Washington state.
Baron previously worked at Strategies 360, a Denver-based, non-partisan public affairs consulting firm, where she was tasked with communications, legislative advocacy and coalition building. Before that, she worked as communications director for former Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s congressional campaign.
The office gets busy first thing in the morning and often the lights are on past 10 p.m., particularly when a fundraising deadline is nearing, Baron says. (The year’s crucial first quarter closed at the end of March, and, while Baron says totals likely won’t be released until the April 15 filing deadline, the campaign exceeded its goals. Romanoff and Coffman both posted more than $2 million raised through the end of last year, putting the contest on pace to be one of the most expensive congressional elections in the country.)
Amid a busy schedule of holding house parties — the campaign has had more than 75 since kicking off last year and the schedule is accelerating this month, Baron says — knocking on more than 11,000 doors so far, and meeting with local businesses and community groups, Romanoff finds time for hours a day in fundraising calls.
It’s a huge chunk of the candidate’s time, Baron notes, especially because Romanoff has sworn off PAC contributions and is relying on individual donors. As the fundraising quarter came to a close last month, she recalls, Romanoff took breaks for dinner but was typically making calls from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., only getting off the phone for a house party, community event or meeting. On average, she says, it’s 40 hours a week of fundraising calls, a time commitment she describes as “brutal.”
“He is the hardest working person I’ve known,” she says. “He knows what he has to do.”
It wouldn’t be a Romanoff campaign without the customary presence of First Dog Zorro, Romanoff’s well-known border collie mix, who accompanies the candidate to the office most days and often has canine company when volunteers or staffers bring their dogs. “I’m a big fan of having the dogs around,” Baron says, noting that petting them can be therapeutic. She adds that there’s some division on the issue among staffers but says, “I’m officially pro-puppy.”
The campaign plans to open satellite offices in the northern and southern parts of the district but hasn’t confirmed locations yet.
Romanoff, who served four terms representing a central Denver district in the Colorado House, including two terms as speaker, announced his campaign for Coffman’s seat last February and has been running full-speed since. He mounted a primary challenge four years ago against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed to fill the term of Ken Salazar after he was tapped as interior secretary in the Obama Cabinet. Although he led among delegates to the state assembly and won top line on the primary ballot, Romanoff lost to Bennet, who went on to defeat Republican nominee Ken Buck in a squeaker. Romanoff declined to run for the 6th CD seat in 2012 — despite aggressive recruitment by national Democrats — but moved into the district in February 2013 and announced his 2014 run the next week.
See the April 11 print edition for pull photo coverage.