The Dems Who Want To Take On Cory Gardner Got Together For A Picnic Social This Weekend

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition executive director Lorena Garcia at a picnic-style candidate forum hosted by Indivisible Denver hosted for Democrats running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 at Barnum Park on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

About 100 people gathered at a park overlooking downtown Denver Sunday to hear from Democrats vying to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. This was the first public event to bring together the crowded 2020 Senate primary field.

So far, 10 Democrats are running, and more are expected to enter the race. One candidate wasn’t able to attend the forum.

Each candidate gave a short speech and answered a couple of questions: a personal one and one on the issues. A variety of topics were touched on from climate change and immigration to the Electoral College and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I want an upbeat positive vision on how we can pull together and make it a better future for everybody in Colorado. That’s what I’m listening for,” said Democratic voter Ernestine Garcia.

Universal health care is her number one issue, and she’s ready to back any candidate who could oust Gardner. She’s also worried about the threat to Roe v. Wade, which was a common theme from others in the crowd.

“I’m 72, almost 73. I thought we fought this battle 50 years ago but I’m very concerned about taking away a woman’s right to choose,” said Boulder voter Sally Yerger

The event, organized by Indivisible Denver and its sister organizations, was billed as a casual gathering to get to know the candidates, rather than a debate. People brought picnic foods, sat on lawn chairs or blankets, and even played a few lawn games.

“I will support any of the Democrats running against Cory Gardner if they win the nomination,” pledged candidate Andrew Romanoff, a former Speaker of the state House who has run for Congress twice. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I was the best qualified choice and I’ll make that case to you as well.”

Romanoff’s one of the better known names, along with former state Sen. Michael Johnston, who ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2018. Former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden is the third candidate in the race to have served in the legislature.

The rest of the field are newer names or running for the first time.

That list includes John Walsh, former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, Dan Baer, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Colorado State University Finance Professor Ellen Burnes and neuroscientist Trish Zornio, who lectures at the University of Colorado Denver.

Diana Bray, a clinical psychologist and climate activist is also seeking the nomination. At Sunday’s event, she highlighted her work on Proposition 112, the failed ballot measure that would have increased the setback distance between oil and gas operations and homes and schools. Bray reference the number of voters who supported the measure, even though it was defeated by an 11 point margin.

“One point one million suggests that there’s a lot of progressive energy here for real change, 1.1 million in Colorado alone are worried about the future of our children and grandchildren and the planet, 1.1 million people do not believe that public lands and open public space should be sold off to oil and gas companies,” she said.

Haley Lindholm, a voter who moved to Denver two years ago from Omaha, Nebraska, said she was especially impressed with first-time candidate and community organizer Lorena Garcia. She likes that Garcia’s a Latina and a lesbian.

Lindholm also appreciated how another woman in the race, Stephany Rose Spaulding, connected with the audience and spoke about her experience as an African American woman. Rose Spaulding is a Baptist pastor and professor of women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She lost a Congressional race to Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn in the November mid-terms.

“They’re firebrands and not getting the media attention,” Lindholm said of the women. “I want someone who is different from what I’ve seen. I want a more inclusive government.”