Some may consider the Front Range a mecca for Colorado state and federal politics. Durango and the Western Slope can often feel shortchanged.
But that changed for a few hours Saturday afternoon at Durango Public Library, where about 200 people sat, stood and listened to 11 candidates in the Democratic primary for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat. One of the 11, by June 30, will contend for a Colorado seat on the U.S. Senate – the one held by first-term incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who was elected in 2014.
An engaged crowd asked the seven women and four men about their fundamental federal policy priorities – climate change, health care, education, gun rights, campaign finance, economic development. The first-floor program room buzzed before and after the event as residents met the candidates and caught up with each other.
Saturday’s event was the first time since former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the crowded primary race that all 11 women and men contending for the Democratic bid for the 2020 Colorado U.S. Senate race all spoke together in public. La Plata County Democrats hosted the forum with support from the Colorado Democratic Party.
Former and current local leaders were there. Media from around the state came. Candidates joked and engaged with the crowd in the 90 seconds, 45 seconds or 30 seconds they were each given to answer questions from the crowd and moderator Morgan Carroll, a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate who is chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party.
“The candidates have a lot to learn from the issues here in Southwest Colorado,” she said.
Twenty-year Durango resident Susan Corenwell said she’s unfamiliar with the candidates for the Democratic bid for U.S. senator – and she’s not a huge fan of the one she does know. The lifelong Democrat came to the forum Saturday to find the most progressive candidate, she said.
“It’s time for people to stand up and be progressive,” Corenwell said. “Being progressive is a young idea, and we’re leaving the world to the young.”
La Plata Electric Association board member Guinn Unger said he hoped to eliminate some of the candidates as potential Democratic bids for senator after hearing from each of them for almost two hours, but they all stood out. The candidates did “pretty darn well,” given they each had 90 seconds to discuss the complex issues facing Colorado and the United States and had two microphones to share between 11 people.
The candidates shared a common platforms on investing in education, regulating access to firearms, addressing climate change and making health care more accessible for disadvantaged socioeconomic groups – and they all recognize that. While a common theme of “beat Cory Gardner” echoed through many of their remarks, each candidate differed as to their policy priorities, sense of urgency and challenge to the status quo.
But despite their differences, each said it’s important, no matter who gets the nomination, that the Colorado U.S. Senate seat go to a Democrat. The race could be pivotal in deciding the U.S. Senate majority.
Each candidate said they would support whomever is nominated. Each committed to constructively criticize the nominee’s policies to a different degree.
And Colorado Democratic Chairwoman Carroll said she doesn’t think Cory Gardner stands a chance.