Although Andrew Romanoff hadn’t quite turned 48 yet, some 500 supporters showed up on Saturday evening in Centennial to wish him a happy birthday in what has become a traditional fundraising opportunity for the Democrat, who is locked in one of the tightest congressional races in the country this year.
“I still have a few hours left to party with you before old age sets in tomorrow,” Romanoff said with a smile from the stage at Centennial Center Park. “Please, don’t age me before my time.” Then, flashing his trademark wit, he added, “When I came in tonight, somebody said, ‘Gosh, you look a lot younger on TV,’” and gave a deadpan wince.
Imminent advanced age aside, Romanoff told the crowd — the suggested donation was $48 for hot dogs and hamburgers grilled up by Arapahoe County Democratic Party Chairman John Buckley and Romanoff’s campaign manager, Tim McCann, to the sound of a live band — that he felt great about celebrating another year on the planet.
“Somebody is smiling upon us tonight, because it’s great weather, great turnout, some acrobatic aerial displays, and a terrific group of friends,” he said as an airplane spun and dove in the clear blue sky behind him, framed by enormous arch.
Introducing the birthday boy, CU Regent Joe Neguse, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, recalled that he first started working for Romanoff in 2005 when he was assigned to drive the then-speaker of the Colorado House around the state in support of Referendum C, a ballot measure to lift TABOR restrictions on state revenue passed by voters that year with bipartisan support.
“I never would have gotten into public service if I didn’t work for Andrew Romanoff,” Neguse said. Being able to see first-hand the impact Romanoff had on the state, he said, “made me believe in public service.”
Noting that he had attended eight or nine of Romanoff’s birthday bashes, Neguse surveyed the assembled supporters and added, “This is by far the biggest crowd I’ve seen. The momentum is there. Andrew is going to be the congressman from the 6th CD.”
He’ll have to defeat the incumbent for that to happen, though. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman — who had his own annual summer fundraiser the weekend before, at the home of James and Joy Hoffman in Greenwood Village — is considered one of the only House Republican incumbents in a toss-up race in the country this year, and both sides have targeted the seat with all they’ve got.
Supporter Cynthia Koenck of Aurora said she’s supported Romanoff since he was a legislator and was a Romanoff delegate when he challenged U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a primary four years ago.
“There’s a lot of energy,” she said. “I’m excited about it. I think we can flip this district.”
An optimistic Romanoff said he plans to see a crowd at least as large on election night, when he hopes to get a concession call from Coffman.
That’s going to happen, Romanoff predicted, because of what he’s witnessed in the first two debates between the two candidates, which took place earlier this month.
“Instead of defending his record, the congressman has chosen to attack me,” Romanoff said. “They wouldn’t be doing that if they were confident of victory. The truth is, the congressman and I disagree on a number of issues — virtually all of them, in fact. So we could have a debate about the best way to strengthen the economy, grow the middle class, move this country forward. That’s our agenda in this campaign. But the congressman doesn’t want to talk about those issues. He’d rather talk about my character. He said in the course of the last debate that I lack honor and integrity because I attended Harvard and Yale, of all places. I told him that I’m proud that I got a good education, and I’m running for Congress because I want every American to get a good education.”
Voters, Romanoff said, deserve a chance to hear the candidates make their cases.
“Here’s my vision,” Romanoff said. “I think you grow the economy and strengthen the middle class by making higher education more affordable, by putting college within reach of more families.” He also listed ensuring that women earn equal pay for equal work and accelerating the country’s transition to clean-energy jobs and reducing reliance on fossil fuels “so we no longer have to foul our oceans or spoil our skies or spill our blood to power our planet.”
America can do all those things, he said. “Just not with this Congress and not with this congressman.”
Then he swung at the Republican-controlled House, saying it has “abdicated any interest in solving problems. They have all the time in the world to repeal laws, they have all the time in the world to sue the president, or threaten to impeach him. And it turns out they have all the time in the world to go on vacation.” Romanoff blasted lawmakers for going on a scheduled recess, which he called a “five week vacation to reward themselves for a job incompletely done.”
In a familiar refrain, the former House speaker said he had plenty of experience fixing problems, particularly when the Democratic-controlled legislature had to work things out with Republican Gov. Bill Owens. “We brought Democrats and Republicans together,” he said, conceding that sounds “like a fairy tale” these days.
“Gov. Owens demonstrated a lot of courage by his willingness to buck his own party, and work across the aisle and stand with us to balance the budget, to repair our infrastructure, to shore up our schools and colleges, and to get things done. And even when we disagreed,” Romanoff said, “we never shut down the whole government over our differences. And that, to me, is one of the differences between how things work in Colorado and how they’ve completely collapsed in Washington, D.C.”
Romanoff claimed that internal polling shows that, if the election were held right now, voters who have made up their mind prefer Romanoff. “We’re ahead, we’re winning this race,” he said as the crowd let loose cheers and applause.
“All I’m asking you to do over the next 73 days,” he said with a determined smile, “is everything you’ve done, and then some.”
Then, before blowing out the candles on a pair of birthday cakes — one featured Romanoff’s dog, Zorro, wielding a spatula at a barbecue grill and the other was decorated with his blue-and-white campaign logo — the candidate thanked the scores of supporters who have thrown house parties for his campaign, adding, “I know there are other ways to spend a Saturday evening — at least, I’m told.”
See the August 29 print edition for full photo coverage.