Back in 2019, the race to secure Colorado’s Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate was a crowded field. Fifteen diverse candidates—including well-known local politicians like Angela Williams and Mike Johnston—were running serious campaigns. But several contenders dropped out after former Gov. John Hickenlooper entered the race in August, and most others failed to earn a spot on the ballot in recent months.

Now, a two-person showdown is guaranteed: Hickenlooper will square off against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the June 30 primary, the winner of which will face incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner in the November 3 general election.

No other senate candidate will appear on the ballot, but that wasn’t clear until Thursday night: Lorena Garcia, a local nonprofit leader, mounted a legal challenge in hopes of earning a spot. Though she failed to submit enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot, she argued that the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions made it nearly impossible to do so for a grassroots campaign. Most recently, the Colorado Supreme Court—at the urging of the Secretary of State’s office—ruled that she should not be included; she appealed that decision but lost in federal court.

After that ruling came through, Colorado’s Secretary of State Jena Griswold  formally certified the ballot on May 7. “The Colorado Secretary of State’s office recognizes the challenges coronavirus has presented candidates in gathering signatures. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Secretary of State’s office to act in accordance with the decisions made by the Federal District court. As a result, the state primary ballot has been certified without Ms. Garcia as a candidate for the United States Senate,” Griswold’s office wrote in a statement Thursday night.

Hickenlooper was the first candidate to qualify for the ballot when he turned in the requisite number of signatures—10,500, including 1,500 from each congressional district in the state—in mid-March, shortly before the state instituted stay-at-home orders. He then withdrew from the virtual state assembly process, which Romanoff dominated on April 18 by winning 86 percent of delegate votes, earning his own ballot spot.

Even before the ballot was set, both candidates saw the primary as a two-person race, with their eyes squarely focused on defeating Gardner in November.

“Voters now have a clear choice. We’re running a progressive, grassroots campaign to combat the climate crisis, ensure health care, and build an economy that works for everyone,” Romanoff said in a statement on Wednesday, May 6. “The other two remaining candidates [Hickenlooper and Gardner] are funded by the fossil fuel industry, beholden to the Washington establishment, and dead-set against the reform we need.”

Hickenlooper struck a similar note, invoking the COVID-19 pandemic and criticizing Republican leadership. “This health crisis has been hard on everyone and has made clear how broken Washington is,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “It’s time to elect a senator to represent Colorado who will expand health care, tackle climate change, and stand up for Colorado workers and small businesses. With the support of our team and incredible volunteers, our campaign is ready to win the nomination in June and go on to defeat Senator Cory Gardner.”

In addition to Hickenlooper, Romanoff, and Gardner, the primary ballot will include two Libertarian candidates: Raymon Anthony Doane and Gaylon Kent.

Editor’s Note 5/8/20: This story was updated after ballots were certified on May 7. 

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.