Hickenlooper joins 10 other Democrats in Durango for first Senate forum

DURANGO — Colorado’s full slate of Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate shared a stage for the first time Saturday afternoon, introducing themselves to Western Slope voters at a forum that allowed for few policy specifics, discouraged debate and resulted in stunted stump speeches.
In this southwest Colorado town, the 11 candidates gathered for 90 minutes at a public library, fielding easy questions from a moderator before a full crowd of 200 people. Other attendees were turned away because of fire marshal regulations, according to Colorado Democratic Party organizers.
Saturday’s forum was the first for John Hickenlooper, a former governor who traded the bright lights of presidential debate stages for the soft fluorescent lights of the Durango Public Library when he decided last month to end his nationwide candidacy and run for Senate. Three reporters were in attendance Saturday, unlike the 700 who attended his June presidential debate.
Hickenlooper used his time at the microphone to tout his skills at bringing people together. He criticized Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, the Yuma Republican who Democrats are competing to face, and President Donald Trump but vowed never to attack the other Democrats personally.
When asked about his top policy focus, Hickenlooper pointed to climate change. “It’s the one challenge we face that threatens humanity,” he said, calling it a bigger threat than nuclear weapons were during the Cold War. “We have to get this country united,” on a solution, he said.
Health care and climate change were the top issues for the 11 candidates, who were given broad latitude to answer the moderator’s vague questions. State Sen. Angela Williams said criminal justice reform is a top focus for her because “we have to protect the future of our men, of our black and brown folks in this state.” Lorena Garcia said her premier issue is economic justice.
“Priority issue number one: winning the damn seat,” said Stephany Rose Spaulding. “And take the gavel out of (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s hands.”
The candidates discussed, at times, how best to win Colorado’s 2020 Senate race, addressing an electability question that has hovered over the Senate race since the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed Hickenlooper soon after his entrance last month.
The DSCC endorsement frustrated several candidates but was mentioned only once Saturday. After a question about campaign finance reform, Spaulding said, “National organizations … are putting their thumbs on the scale of complicated primaries to handpick candidates.”
Several candidates argued the Democratic nominee should be an unabashed progressive who challenges the status quo and excites liberals. Dan Baer argued he is best positioned to win, as someone standing in the middle of status quo moderates and “those who want to burn it all down.”
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“Candidates like me are winning across the country for Democrats,” the former ambassador said, referring to experts in national security and foreign policy.
“I am the only candidate in this race who has raised more than a million dollars in a quarter. I’ve raised more grassroots dollars than any other candidate in this race. I’m the only candidate with foreign policy experience to go toe to toe with Cory Gardner.”
Several of the candidates expressed their desire that the Democratic nominee be a woman. “We’ve never had a woman win,” Garcia said. “We have never had a queer person from Colorado represent us in the Senate. We have two options here. And we have never had a Latina represent us in the U.S. Senate or Congress. Representation matters.” (Baer is also gay.)
During a dual question about education and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Hickenlooper, Alice Madden and Williams said they support reforming TABOR, with Madden and Williams directly throwing their support behind Proposition CC, which would do so.
“I want to make sure this country builds the single finest system of public education on the planet, and that starts by honoring teachers and paying them what they’re worth,” said Andrew Romanoff,  a former Colorado House speaker, in one of the biggest applaud lines of the day.
Near the end of the forum, the 11 candidates were asked whether they will support the Democratic nominee for Senate, regardless of who it is. While nearly all indicated they would, their answers varied. Hickenlooper and John Walsh vowed not to attack other Democrats, but several other candidates stressed the importance of displaying policy differences among themselves.

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