Turnout urgency works for Colorado Dems
© Alexandra Jaffe

AURORA, Colo. — Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D-Colo.) and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) sought to fire up a room full of volunteers Monday night by arguing that that they — not independents or furious conservatives — could hold the key to the candidates' success this fall.

Coming off of a series of bad polls showing Udall's Republican challenger, Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE, opening up a steady lead on the senator, and the news that national Democrats had decided to withdraw funds from Romanoff's battle with Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), the meeting took on an added urgency.

"This is, I would argue, the best chance you're ever going to have, especially here in the 6th District, to flip a district, not just from red to blue, but from paralysis to progress," Romanoff told the crowd.

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The event was aimed at transitioning the army of Democratic volunteers in the 6th District from persuasion canvassing, meant to turn undecideds into definite Democratic votes, to get-out-the-vote efforts, meant to make sure every one of those Democratic votes turns in a ballot.

This is the first year Colorado elections operate under new laws that allow same-day registration and every voter getting mailed a ballot. Democrats are planning to use the data and ground advantage they've been working on for years — some have estimated Democrats' ground game to be three times the size of Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenators press for answers in Space Command move decision Biden announces first slate of diverse judicial nominees American Rescue Plan: Ending child poverty — let's make it permanent MORE's (D-Colo.) in 2010 — to secure a win.

In 2010, under a similarly unfavorable political climate, Bennet pulled out a win over Republican Ken Buck — who was, similar to Gardner, holding a slight lead in the polls on Election Day — by just 11,000 votes.

This year, that margin could be even slimmer.

The room of 170 volunteers could be the secret weapon to counteract what's rapidly shaping up to be not just a difficult year for Democrats, but potentially a devastating one.

And the reasons for the Democrats' difficulties were on display Monday night as well.

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"Elections are about the future," Udall told the crowd, later adding that he expects to win by "being being forward-leaning ... by thinking about the next generation."

Seconds later, the senator made a joke about the age — "when I first started knocking on doors — I think Andrew [Romanoff] was alive then" — that underscored why, perhaps, his message seems to be ringing hollow with Colorado voters.

At least, it did with the Denver Post, which endorsed Gardner over him, writing that the Republican could bring “fresh leadership, energy and ideas” to Congress.

Still, Udall was upbeat Monday night, and even dismissed the Post's endorsement with another joke: "My first race for the House — by the way, that race I didn't get the endorsement of the Denver Post either," he said, to chuckles from the crowd.

Romanoff, too, looked at ease, at one point taking his huge black dog — a border collie mix he brought home from the pound 11 years ago and named “Zorro” — out for a quick walk. He also seemed to enjoy discussing what he believes makes America so exceptional in the world with two Pakistani journalists — easy and affordable access to higher education, a main plank of his campaign platform. 

But he noticeably tenses when asked by a reporter about national Democrats' recent withdrawal of $1.4 million in funds from his race.

"No," he says, he's not concerned about the development. "At the end of the day, this election's going to be decided by the folks that actually vote here, and the folks who we're training across the hall here," he adds, gesturing towards the room filled with volunteers.

He notes his campaign has outraised Coffman — though the incumbent ended the third quarter with about $1 million more cash on hand than the Democrat — so he has "the resources we need to win," but declines to comment on whether he'll have to reshuffle those resources to make up for national Democrats' withdrawal.

A campaign spokeswoman later declined to comment on whether the campaign would reshuffle resources to pick up the slack left by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But while he emphasizes the importance of the ground game, Romanoff acknowledges the air war is important.

"I can tell you we've got a plan to win. We're executing it. Part of it's going on across the hall. Part of it is obviously on the air, too, because we know not everybody opens the door when you knock on it, or picks up the phone when you call, so you gotta use TV too," he says.

National Republicans, however, saw the withdrawal as evidence Democrats have "clearly given up" on Romanoff, as National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Houlton said in an email.

“Democrats are in full panic mode in Colorado. Andrew Romanoff was once Nancy Pelosi’s top recruit and now finds himself without the support of his Washington allies," he said.

It was impossible to miss the urgency behind the Democrats' pleas. The volunteers were asked to commit to six GOTV sessions prior to Oct. 31, and six more sessions in the final five days leading up to the election.

Everett Brinson, a 76-year-old black retired military officer and longtime Democratic volunteer, admitted the task ahead of the volunteers is tough. 

He suggested the 6th District race is tight because of the negative attacks on Romanoff and because the president’s coattails “aren’t that strong.” 

The president’s unpopularity is, in fact, one of the Democrats’ toughest hurdles to overcome, even with other surrogates taking his place in Colorado — like former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 Close the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report MORE, who made an impromptu stop at a coffee shop for Udall Monday afternoon after appearing at a private fundraiser for him.

But while Brinson said he believes Democrats can “swing the balance” through their GOTV efforts, they’re battling widespread apathy this cycle.

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“I’m out in the neighborhoods all the time, [and] you see it. Just talking to people, you see the apathy — ‘I don’t know if my vote counts, I don’t know if these people really represent me, I’m kind of turned off from the voting process,’” he said.

Brinson also noted that when canvassing black neighborhoods, many voters have other things on their minds.

“In some neighborhoods, people aren’t politically savvy, they aren’t politically interested,” he said. “They’re more concerned with survival — being able to pay the bills, being able to put food on the table, keep their kids out of trouble.”

And voters concerned with their own survival, Brinson noted, don’t have the luxury to worry about the political survival of two Democrats.

“They find it hard to see where politicians can impact their situation,” he said.

—This post was updated at 2 p.m. with comment from the NRCC.