Working to retain a Democratic U.S. Senate

The Colorado Statesman

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker dazzled a standing-room-only crowd of Democrats in northeast Denver on Saturday with some tart observations about a Republican candidate named Cory in an effort to pump up enthusiasm for Colorado Sen. Mark Udall.

“I feel like I am very qualified because my name is Cory to talk about other Corys,” a grinning Booker told supporters of Udall, who is running for a second term against Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma. Invoking 1980s-era actors and a singer, he added, “I don’t want to talk about Cory Feldman, I don’t want to talk about Cory Hart, I don’t want to talk about Cory Haim. I came here to talk about another Cory.”

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall flank New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker as the three prepare to fire up volunteers at the opening of a northeast Denver campaign office on Aug. 23.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Calling Gardner representative of “the wingnuts” who he claims control the Republican Party, Booker said, “Please understand, this is not a man that reflects Colorado,” drawing cheers of affirmation from dozens of campaign volunteers and elected officials.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, left, and Sen. Mark Udall greet each other at the newly opened campaign headquarters in northeast Denver, as U.S. Cory Booker, center, watches the display of camaraderie between the two Colorado officials.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Booker, the former mayor of Newark, N.J., spent much of last weekend in the Denver area, kicking off his stay with a visit to help officially open the Democrats’ regional field office in Park Hill. Among the crowd were Denver City Council President Chris Herndon, Councilman Albus Brooks, Denver Public School Board member Happy Haynes and state Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver.

"Are you ready to rumble?” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall asks a packed house at the opening of a campaign field office on Aug. 23 in northeast Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Booker performed similar duties on Sunday at an Arapahoe County field office across the hall from the Aurora campaign headquarters of House candidate Andrew Romanoff, who is locked in one of the tightest congressional races in the country against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, and then traveled to Alaska and Oregon, leveraging his celebrity status — he’s sometimes mentioned as a potential member of a national ticket, a suggestion Udall made when he spoke to the crowd — to boost efforts to mobilize voters to the polls.

Noting that Democrats don’t bring the enthusiasm they show in presidential years to midterm elections, Booker emphasized that voter turnout will make the difference in who controls the U.S. Senate after the fall election.

“So goes Colorado in November, so goes America,” Booker said, noting that he’s on the ballot himself running for a full term — he was elected last year in a special election to fill a vacancy and joked that he has “still got that ‘new senator smell’” — but that Udall’s toss-up race against Gardner could determine whether Democrats keep the Senate gavel.

Colorado’s junior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, made a similar point introducing Booker.

“There is not a race in the country where there is a greater difference between the two people running for the United States Senate than here in Colorado,” said Bennet, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is tasked with keeping the majority.

Udall, Bennet said, has voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, equal pay for equal work, an increase in minimum wage, and for closing loopholes in the tax code that reward businesses for sending jobs overseas. In contrast, he charged, “the other guy” has voted to shut the federal government down, to repeal the Affordable Care Act 50 times and to sue President Barack Obama. “I think we know who we want voting on the next Supreme Court justice, and that is Mark Udall, not Cory Gardner,” Bennet concluded.

A Gardner campaign spokesman fired back in a statement to The Colorado Statesman.

“While Senator Udall continues to bring in a parade of out-of-state bullies to prop up his failing campaign, Cory spent the day in Pueblo meeting with Coloradans about how Obamacare is hurting their families, how Senator Udall’s energy tax would kill jobs, and how Senator Udall’s record of rubber stamping President Obama’s failed policies is damaging the future for Colorado families,” said Alex Siciliano.

Gardner has had his own help recently from prominent GOP senators, including appearances at fundraisers this month by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, whose appearances were closed to the press and public.

According to Booker, however, it is Udall and Bennet — he called both key mentors when he entered the Senate last year — who represent “the epitome of bipartisanship” and are lawmakers “who get into the mix of it and figure out how to get things done.”

Striking a decidedly partisan tone, Booker lashed the national Republican Party — “it’s being controlled by its Tea Party wing,” he contended, shaking his head — and praised Udall as a reliable warrior in “the important fights.”

Quoting “that great New Jerseyan,” Yogi Berra, Booker said he felt like it was “deja vu all over again” to realize the country was still embroiled in disputes over a “massive assault on women’s rights,” civil rights, voting rights and environmental protections.

“We’ve already got this election won,” Booker maintained, except that Democrats tend to stay home in non-presidential years. “We’ve got the numbers. The challenge right now is getting folks out. And that cannot be done by hoping it so and wishing it so.”

He told a story about voting in his home precinct to illustrate the point.

In 2008, Booker said, when he was mayor and Obama was on the ballot for the first time, he arrived at the polling place to find “a line like I’d never seen it before.” Joking that his city’s residents “keep it real,” he said, “A woman at end of line looked at me and she goes, ‘Don’t you think of cutting in this line. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to wait just like the rest of us.’” So he waited in line along with his constituents, determined to cast their vote.

Fast-forward a year to the state’s gubernatorial election, and “no one was at the polls,” he frowned. “I walked in and I had to hug my poll workers, because they were lonely.”

Republican Chris Christie — a presidential prospect and no stranger to recent controversy in Colorado — won that race by just over 4 points, Booker noted, all because key Democratic constituencies stayed home.

After describing Udall’s tirelessness, Booker concluded: “This election will not be determined on his work ethic, it will be determined on ours.”

Speaking briefly before the senators headed out to do some door-to-door canvassing, Udall did his part to fire up the crowd.

“Are you ready to rumble?” he asked, observing that there were only 73 days until ballots are counted and just 54 days until mail ballots go out.

In addition to unfurling familiar anecdotes from the campaign trail, Udall struck a more serious note when he addressed the recent turmoil in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where police and protesters have clashed following the shooting of an 18-year-old African American man.

“It’s tragic, it’s unacceptable,” Udall said. “Unarmed, young black men are not criminals. We need to do something. I don’t have the answer, but we can’t let this fade away. So let’s all stand together,” he told the largely African-American crowd.

“As Democrats, we need to remind the public: being kind is not a weakness, and being kind doesn’t disguise a competitive fire,” Udall concluded. “I’ve won eight elections, I’m going to win a ninth one with your help.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com

See the August 29 print edition for full photo coverage.