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Hickenlooper seeks to shake ethics woes in Tuesday primary

 Hickenlooper seeks to shake ethics woes in Tuesday primary

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Democrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE is slated to face off against former Colorado state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the state’s Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday.

Hickenlooper is by and large the favorite to win the nominating contest, owing to his almost-universal name recognition in Colorado after two terms as governor and a $6 million campaign account that eclipses that of Romanoff. He also has the backing of Democratic Senate leaders in Washington and outside groups, who are spending heavily to buoy the former governor’s Senate bid.

But Hickenlooper’s campaign has also been beset by gaffes and controversies that have fueled attacks from both Romanoff and Republicans, who are scrambling to hold onto Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE’s (R-Colo.) seat in November in one of the key races for control of the upper chamber. 

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Among those controversies is an ethics complaint accusing Hickenlooper of accepting a private jet flight and a limousine ride during his tenure as governor in violation of state laws banning officials from taking gifts.

Troubles mounted for Hickenlooper after he defied a subpoena to appear virtually in front of Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission, which responded by looking to hold him in contempt.

The commission ruled earlier this month that Hickenlooper had violated state ethics rules and fined him $2,750.

Hickenlooper’s campaign and allies have downplayed the ethics controversy, noting that the group that filed the original ethics complaint with the commission was formed in 2018 by the Republican former Colorado state House Speaker Frank McNulty just two days before initiating the complaint.

But the ethics violations and contempt finding has fueled attacks from Romanoff, who has sought to cast Hickenlooper as an establishment-backed political insider.

“I’m not running to turn the Senate cloakroom into my own little private country club,” Romanoff said at a primary debate earlier this month. “When I win this seat, it will be in spite of the opposition of my own party leadership in Washington and instead because of the support we’re getting all across Colorado.”

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Romanoff is running in the progressive lane of the primary, touting policy proposals like the Green New Deal and "Medicare for All" in a bid to replicate the energy that helped Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal MORE (I-Vt.) win Colorado’s Democratic presidential primary in March.

But he hasn’t seen the kind of momentum in the race that progressives in other states have built. He has raised only a fraction of what Hickenlooper has. And just last week, a SurveyUSA poll showed him trailing the former governor by 30 points in the Senate race. Before that, an internal poll conducted for Romanoff’s campaign showed him closing the gap with Hickenlooper, though he still trailed by 12 points.

Romanoff has picked up endorsements from some progressive groups, including the Sunrise Movement and the Denver chapter of Our Revolution, the political nonprofit founded by Sanders after his unsuccessful 2016 presidential bid.

But he has not drawn the explicit support of Sanders or other well-known progressive leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington AOC's Ministry of Truth MORE (D-N.Y.), both of whom have endorsed progressive challengers in other high-profile primary races. Another prominent progressive and former presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters DeVos mulled unilateral student loan forgiveness as COVID-19 wracked economy: memo MORE (D-Mass.), threw her support behind Hickenlooper last week.

Romanoff’s campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Democrats need to flip either three or four Republican-held seats, depending on which party wins control of the White House, if they hope to capture a Senate majority in November, and Gardner is among the party’s top electoral targets.

But one Democratic incumbent, Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), is seen as incredibly vulnerable, and if he loses his seat, Democrats would need to pick up a minimum of four seats to win control of the chamber.

Republicans acknowledge that Gardner faces a tough path to reelection. Democrats in Colorado have benefited from the state’s shift to the left in recent years, a trend underscored in 2018 when the party won control of the state government for the first time since 1936.

There’s also the possibility that Gardner is suffering from having President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE at the top of the ballot. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Millennials and the great reckoning on race Biden chooses Amanda Gorman as youngest known inaugural poet MORE carried Colorado in the 2016 presidential race, and Trump remains unpopular there. Polling data from the firm Civiqs shows the president’s approval rating in the state hovering at around 37 percent — 4 points below where it stands nationally.

Democrats also have a wide voter-registration advantage that they didn’t have four years ago. There are now about 83,000 more registered Democratic voters in Colorado, according to data released this month by the Secretary of State’s Office. In June 2016, Republicans held a roughly 13,000-voter advantage.

“It used to be that voters in Colorado would split tickets, and they’re not any more. There are not going to be Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE-Cory Gardner voters,” said Laura Chapin, a Denver-based Democratic strategist who used to work for Romanoff when he was state House Speaker.

“Trump has so poisoned the Republican brand in Colorado that every Republican is a proxy for Trump,” Chapin added. “That’s what happened in the 2018 midterms and I don’t expect that to change in the 2020 general.”

But Republicans say that Hickenlooper’s stumbles on the campaign trail have, at the very least, taken Democrats off a glide path to flipping Gardner’s Senate seat, while giving the GOP an opening to attack the former governor ahead of the general election campaign.

In the three weeks leading up to the primary, Republicans have spent a combined $2 million advertising against Hickenlooper, according to an analysis of advertising data by The Hill.

“Colorado should theoretically be a race where Democrats don’t need to sweat anything,” one Republican strategist familiar with Senate races said. “Hickenlooper made what should have been a relatively easy primary one that cost Democrats millions of dollars because of his unforced errors.”