WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper shrugged off a series of campaign stumbles to win the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday, beating a progressive challenger in a race vital to the party’s hopes of regaining Senate control in November.
Hickenlooper’s victory sets up a high-profile Nov. 3 showdown with conservative Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, considered one of the country’s most vulnerable incumbents and a top target for Democrats.
With more than three-quarters of precincts reporting, Hickenlooper led by nearly 20 percentage points over Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker who had touted progressive priorities such as Medicare for All that were opposed by the more moderate Hickenlooper.
After his win, Hickenlooper made it clear in a video address to supporters that he would tie Gardner, who has been closely aligned with Republican President Donald Trump, directly to what he said were Trump’s failed policies.
“I’ve never lost an election in this state and I don’t intend to lose this one,” Hickenlooper said.
Colorado was one of three states, along with Utah and Oklahoma, to hold nominating contests on Tuesday. Colorado and Utah primarily vote by mail, minimizing the problems with in-person voting that marred other elections during the coronavirus outbreak.
Hickenlooper, recruited to run by national Democrats after his failed presidential campaign last year, had been expected to coast to victory in Colorado but he was beset down the stretch by ethical violations and campaign gaffes, raising some doubts.
He acknowledged he misspoke in late May when he said during a discussion of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that every life matters - a phrase criticized for dismissing racism against Black people. He also apologized after a six-year-old quip surfaced in which he compared a politician’s schedule to working on a slave ship.
Hickenlooper was fined $2,750 by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission on June 12 for violating state ethics laws by accepting free travel when he was governor. He initially defied a subpoena from the panel, testifying only after he was found in contempt.
Republicans said Hickenlooper’s late stumbles showed he would be vulnerable against Gardner.
“If watching him fall apart under pressure these last few weeks is any indication, ‘hot mess’ Hickenlooper is in for a very bumpy ride,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Democrats also learned the winner on Tuesday in the race for the U.S. Senate nomination in Kentucky, where the results were delayed a week by the counting of mailed ballots. Establishment-backed Amy McGrath held off a late surge by Black state lawmaker Charles Booker for the right to challenge Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
In Colorado, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, who had been endorsed by Trump, was upset in a Republican primary by gun rights activist Lauren Boebert. She runs a gun-themed restaurant and has spoken favorably about the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, which says “deep-state” traitors are plotting against the president.
Republicans were choosing challengers to run against U.S. Representatives Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Ben McAdams of Utah, two endangered Democrats who represent districts that Trump carried in 2016.
In Oklahoma, the winner will be determined in an Aug. 25 runoff as no candidate managed 50% of the vote. In Utah, former National Football League player Burgess Owens won the Republican primary to take on McAdams.
A ballot measure in Oklahoma to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor and disabled, appeared to narrowly win despite the Republican governor’s arguments the state cannot afford it. With all precincts reporting, the expansion led by about 1 percentage point.
Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller, Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel