The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is a fickle bunch — free-thinking and untethered, willing to sit out an election when unimpressed by the candidates.
U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff needs as many of these progressives as possible to line up behind his candidacy if he stands any chance of pulling off what his campaign says would be “one of the biggest political upsets of our time” — a defeat of John Hickenlooper in the Democratic primary Tuesday.
Progressives are ascendant in Colorado, and Romanoff brought them aboard his campaign this year and last better than anyone in a crowded Democratic field seeking to challenge Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. But in that time, he has routinely faced questions about his centrist past and heard the animosity of progressives skeptical of his lurch to the left.
“Progressives are absolutely not a monolith, and I know many who personally are struggling with this primary, as they don’t see either Senate candidate as a progressive,” said Stephany Rose Spaulding, a progressive and former Senate candidate who lost to Romanoff at the Democratic state assembly in April. “I have not endorsed either candidate for this very reason.”
Lorena Garcia, arguably the most progressive candidate to run for Senate in Colorado this year, disagreed often with Romanoff, whom she calls a “fauxgressive.”
“I think there are efforts to unify the progressives around Romanoff, but it’s not working,” Garcia said Wednesday.
“I think it’s not working because many of these progressive leaders who are now pushing energy his way had originally denounced Romanoff when he entered the race and are now trying to claim he is the progressive champion. This is not only insincere, it’s inauthentic, and progressives demand authenticity. People may still vote because he says the right things, but the excitement for this race is gone.”
One area where Romanoff has excelled is in uniting climate-focused progressives. National climate leaders have endorsed him, and the youth-led Sunrise Movement has worked the phones and hit the streets for months to help Romanoff. Former Senate candidate Diana Bray, a climate activist, has endorsed Romanoff.
“It is very interesting that I am the only former candidate who is now backing Andrew,” Bray says. “Not one other person came out in support of him, but I don’t think this is reflective at all as to how the public sees him.”
She said Romanoff has unified the climate movement and will win Tuesday, defying conventional wisdom.
“Romanoff’s consistent trajectory has been from relatively centrist to progressive to ultra-progressive: Green New Deal, Medicare for All, reparations, systemic change,” Bray added. “The people of Colorado are masked and ready.”
Romanoff also believes progressives are united behind him. In an interview this week, he listed national progressive advocates who have endorsed him — Ady Barkan, Bill McKibben, Wendell Potter — as evidence of that.
“The way Romanoff has been playing this as an ‘outsider’ candidate running against an establishment candidate is pretty much by the playbook,” said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “You try to court anti-establishment groups, you try to court the progressive wing of the party, and he has done that relatively successfully.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which helped liberal U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker turn a Kentucky primary competitive Tuesday, endorsed Romanoff this week and raised $10,000 for him by Wednesday. Its members will work the phones for him through Election Day, in tandem with Sunrise volunteers.
“This is obviously one of the most winnable Senate seats in 2020, a year that Democrats really want to win back the Senate,” said Maria Langholz, a press secretary for the PCCC, “and there’s really no excuse for electing a corporate Democrat who is fighting against progress on a lot of key issues.”
What Romanoff lacks — and what some of his supporters have long awaited — is an endorsement from a nationally known progressive elected official, namely Sen. Bernie Sanders. David Sirota, a Colorado-based Sanders adviser, supports Romanoff and state Rep. Emily Sirota, his wife, says she and all of Colorado’s Sanders delegates to the Democratic National Convention back Romanoff, too. But Sanders does not.
“He’s our best shot to win the Senate seat in November and actually use that representation to do the work that needs to be done,” said Emily Sirota. “That’s why I support Andrew. I think many progressives feel similarly.”
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