Hickenlooper seeks to shake ethics woes in Tuesday primary

 Hickenlooper seeks to shake ethics woes in Tuesday primary

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Hickenlooper Senate outlook slides for GOP The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks 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 Scott GardnerSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad 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 SandersTrump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' Ex-Sanders campaign manager talks unity efforts with Biden backers The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention 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-CortezHispanic Democrats build capital with big primary wins OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations 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 WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Progressive activist Ady Barkan endorses Biden, urges him to pick Warren as VP Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits 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 John TrumpTrump on Kanye West's presidential run: 'He is always going to be for us' Marie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Trump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' MORE at the top of the ballot. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to visit Georgia next week Former NY Rep. Claudia Tenney to face Anthony Brindisi in House rematch Powell takes on Trump over Confederate flag 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 BidenTrump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' Trump says he'll wear mask during upcoming trip to Walter Reed Latino group 'Mi Familia Vota' launches M voter turnout campaign targeting swing states 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.”