Dem candidates show up in Adams County

The Colorado Statesman

“Are you ready to rumble?” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall asked hundreds of Adams County Democrats at the party’s county assembly on Saturday in Brighton. “This is a big, important election,” he said over a chorus of hearty cheers.

A series of heavyweight incumbents and candidates paraded across the stage inside the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds, where local Democrats had to decide who made the ballot in a handful of local races — Mary Ellen Casso-Pollock and Wilma Rose advance to the June 24 primary in a contested race for a new county commissioner seat — but mostly gathered to gear up for yet another election year where Colorado voters appear to be up for grabs.

The county is home to what’s been called the closest congressional race in the country, pitting incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman against his Democratic challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. And it’s also a pivotal county — once reliably Democratic, the growing neighborhoods north and east of the metro area increasingly swing purple — in what has in recent weeks turned into one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races, pitting Udall against likely Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.

Adams County Democrat Julia Hicks in a trademark hat smiles along with state Sen. Jesse Ulibarri, Democrat from Commerce City, and his daughter Silvia at the county’s Democratic assembly on March 15 in Brighton.

“Welcome to the world’s longest running campaign for Congress,” joked Romanoff, noting he had kicked off his run last February in Adams County.

Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker, says the choices between him and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman are clear during a speech at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 15 in Brighton.

Soon after he began his campaign, Romanoff said, a woman told him she agreed with him and would support him 100 percent, but then whispered that the truth was, she just can’t stand Romanoff’s opponent. “I would vote for you if you were a monkey,” she said.

State treasurer candidate Betsy Markey fires up the crowd at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 15 in Brighton. “Where’s Walker?” she asks, riffing on “Where’s Waldo?”

“The choice in this election,” Romanoff told the crowd after the laughter had died down, “is not between a man and a monkey. It is not even between a donkey and an elephant. The real choice in this election is what kind of vision we share about the America we want to leave to our children.”

Former Adams County Sheriff Bill Shearer and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter talk politics at the county’s Democratic assembly on March 15 in Brighton.

It’s up to voters, he said, to decide whether the country will “grow the economy and strengthen the middle class” by shipping jobs overseas and subsidizing that in the tax code — Coffman’s position, he said — or by “rebuilding America by rebuilding our roads and schools and bridges.” Other differences in their approaches, he continued, were whether to raise the minimum wage, which he favors and Coffman opposes, or whether to slash education or to make “higher education available to everyone who wants to pursue the American Dream.” (Romanoff holds the latter position.)

State Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Aurora, and Romanoff campaign worker Pilar Chapa visit at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 15.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“The choice in this election is very clear,” Romanoff said. “And guess what, guess what, my opponent knows that too. He realizes he cannot win by campaigning on his record. If you were part of the least productive Congress in American history, you couldn’t win that way either. The only way Mike Coffman gets elected is by deciding his record or distorting mine. I’m asking you today not to let that happen.”

Romanoff said that his opponents would “attempt to muddle the facts and blur the differences and disguise the record” when it came to criminalizing abortion, privatizing Social Security and dismantling Medicare, all votes cast by Coffman since first winning election to the district in 2008, when it was a heavily Republican seat previously held by Tom Tancredo.

“If you live in the 6th Congressional District,” Romanoff concluded, noting that Adams County burgs including Thornton, Brighton and Aurora fell within district boundaries, “I’m asking for your vote. If you don’t, I’m asking you to move.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, whose district includes the western part of Adams County, echoed Romanoff’s description of the election ahead.

“I want you to remember the old saying, as it applies to (Romanoff and Udall’s) opponents,” he said. “Actions speak louder than words. Their opponents are going to try to remake themselves, but their votes show them to be out of step with Colorado.

We’ve got to keep those guys from running away from their records.”

Perlmutter, who faces a challenge from Jefferson County businessman Don Ytterberg, told Adams County Democrats that there was no time to relax.

“I wish we could all take a break and just win it without working very hard. That’s not this year. Colorado is still a purple state, he said, and every vote will count,” he said.

Introducing Udall, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet framed the choice in his fellow senator’s contest in similarly stark terms.

“I gotta tell you, there can’t be a bigger distinction in the entire United States of America, between two candidates, between Mark and Congressman Gardner,” he said, ticking off a list of differences: Udall supported letting women make their own health care decisions, he said, while Gardner bragged about carrying petitions for the Personhood Amendment, a failed state measure that would have outlawed abortion and many forms of birth control.

“While Mark fought so hard to make sure we had the funds we needed to respond to these floods,” Bennet continued, referencing the devastating flooding that swept the northern Front Range last summer, “Gardner voted to shut the government down.”

Then, echoing a line uttered recently by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Bennet unloaded on the conservative billionaires who are frequent targets of Democrats.

“Our friends on the other side are addicted to Koch,” he cackled, referring to Charles and David Koch and their Americans for Prosperity organization, sponsors of a nearly $1 million wave of attack ads unleashed this week against Udall. “Which is why we have to work every single day until Election Day to make sure the Koch brothers don’t buy Colorado’s vote, don’t buy Adams County’s vote, don’t buy your vote.”

Udall took the microphone to thunderous applause and immediately reminded the audience that the county held a special place in his heart. Democratic voters in the county, he said, made the difference when he was in a competitive primary in 1998 when he first ran for Congress. “I’ll always be grateful for that,” Udall said.

Coloradans, Udall said, approach things differently than Democrats or Republicans elsewhere in the country.

“We’re rugged cooperators,” he said. “We know you’ve got to take care of yourself and your family, but we also know you come together to make a difference.”

He said his job was to fight to protect Coloradans’ “special way of life, and I’m going to do that come hell or high water — and we’ve literally seen both of those in our state over the last year,” referencing the fires and floods that ravaged the state.

Noting what he termed “signs of hope in the economy” — 50,000 jobs in the last year housing market is rebounding, unemployment is the lowest it’s been in five years — Udall said it wasn’t time to let up, instead that the country should invest in clean energy and spur the economy further. He then laid out a series of points where he plans to offer contrasts with Gardner in the upcoming election.

“It’s past time to raise the minimum wage,” Udall said. “If you work, you shouldn’t live in poverty. And I believe women should be empowered to build the life they aspire to, both in the home and in the workplace. And I’m going to keep fighting to protect a woman’s right to chose, and to guarantee that when women work, they’re getting paid what they deserve.” He proceeded to blast congressional Republicans — he called them “extremists” — for blocking equal pay legislation.

Then Udall summarized what has become his signature issue, at least on the national stage, where he has drawn attention for a prolonged battle between the Senate and various intelligence agencies.

“I’ve also made it my mission,” he said, “to stand up against federal government surveillance that’s become overly intrusive. One of the definitions of freedom is the right to be left alone, and I’m going to keep fighting to rein in the National Security Agency to protect your privacy. And even if it makes some uncomfortable in Washington, I’m going to keep fighting to ensure that the CIA and other intelligence agencies respect America’s rights, values and the constitutional separation of powers.”

Both parties’ county assemblies continue through March 29, when Adams County Republicans hold theirs.

Democrats hold their state assembly on April 12 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. That night, the Jefferson Jackson Dinner features U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat, at the annual fundraiser. In addition, the party plans to honor Joyce Fischer as volunteer of the year; Westminster City Councilwoman Faith Winter and state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, as rising stars; state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, as Democrat of the Year; and bestow the Lifetime Achievement award on Dr. Al Yates.

The Republican state assembly is also on April 12, at the Coors Event Center on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. Numerous congressional and other district GOP assemblies take place the night before at the Omni-Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, where state Republicans are also throwing the annual Centennial Dinner fundraiser. This year’s featured guest is author and radio host Michael Reagan, the eldest son of Ronald Reagan.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com