Romanoff Attack Ad In Senate Primary Draws Battle Lines Among Democrats

June 19, 2020

Updated June 20 at 4:43 pm.

There are 11 days until Democrats choose who they want to try to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, and the fight amid the party has turned more divisive.

Until now, much of the battle was focused between Democrats — with former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff on one side — and Republicans. There were a couple of mostly amicable, mostly respectful debates, even after a series of what some called "stumbles" by Hickenlooper seemed to open him up to wider criticism.

On Friday, the Romanoff campaign fired a shot across the Hickenlooper bow over those missteps, which included Hickenlooper being held in contempt for not showing up for an ethics commission hearing — a hearing that eventually found Hickenlooper violated state ethics rules — as well as a recently surfaced video where Hickenlooper compared politicians to slaves.

The Romanoff shot came in the form of a video ad from his campaign.

Meanwhile, also on Friday, a political action committee that has not disclosed its donors released an ad attacking Romanoff. The group Let's Turn Colorado Blue is not directly tied into the Hickenlooper campaign, but it is led by Mannie Rodriguez, a longtime Colorado Democratic party stalwart. Hickenlooper has the backing of national Democrats in the fight for the nomination. The ad criticizes Romanoff for his role in a 2006 state anti-immigration law.

The negative ad that Romanoff's camp is running uses tape from an old 2010 Hickenlooper political ad. In that original ad, Hickenlooper takes shower after shower to wash away the feeling he gets after he sees a negative political ad.

In Romanoff's 2020 version, Hickenlooper is in the shower trying to wash away all the scandals he's recently found himself in.

"You gotta ask yourself, why does John Hickenlooper take so many showers?" the ad asks before rattling off recent developments that have embroiled the Hickenlooper campaign in controversy.

"Whoa," the ad says. "We can't take this kind of risk if we're going to beat Cory Gardner."

Colorado Republicans said in a statement that Democrats "are melting down today over Andrew Romanoff’s new ad that simply catalogues recent missteps" in the Hickenlooper campaign.

Romanoff said on Twitter that Democrats need the strongest candidate to defeat Gardner — him.

Other Democrats, who commented before the release of the PAC ad against Romanoff, disagreed with the tone of the ad that Romanoff's camp is running.

“You don’t build yourself up by tearing another man down," said former congressman John Salazar, who said he supports Hickenlooper in the race. "He doesn’t do negative campaigning against his friends.”

Gov. Jared Polis, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race, said on Twitter he was "disappointed" that Romanoff chose to attack Hickenlooper, "instead of focusing on his own vision and record."

State Rep. Bri Buentello from Pueblo, who is supporting Hickenlooper, said “Andrew Romanoff’s new ad is an affront to Democratic values. If he has any decency, he would take this ad down today."

The Hickenlooper campaign also commented.

“Cory Gardner, Mitch McConnell and now Andrew Romanoff are spending nearly $2 million attacking John," Hickenlooper campaign spokesperson Melissa Miller said in a statement. "Coloradans won't be fooled and trust John is the leader who will defeat Sen. Gardner and bring change to Washington."

With regard to the PAC ad attacking Romanoff, Miller said in an e-mail, "It's a shame" that among others, "dark money groups injected a negative tone into this race."

Hickenlooper raised $3.7 million in the last fundraising period since April. That beat both Romanoff and Gardner by a large amount: Gardner rose $2.1 million during the same time period. Romanoff reported $710,000 in his Federal Elections’ Commission campaign filing.

Gardner still has the most available money in the race at $9.3 million. Hickenlooper’s campaign said he has $5.9 million cash on hand.

CPR's Bente Birkeland and Rachel Estabrook contributed reporting to this story.

Editor's note: Because of an editing error, this story initially did not specify which candidates the Democrats commenting on the ad are endorsing in the primary. This story has been updated to reflect that Rep. Buentello is supporting Hickenlooper in the primary. It has also been updated to add comments from Gov. Jared Polis.