DENVER — When it comes to how the Bernie-Hillary showdown looks on the ground in Colorado, two recent photographs might say a lot.
Above are photos from two news conferences held this week by the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns as they rolled out their legislative and community leader endorsements in Denver.
In a way, the two events crystalize how the campaigns are playing out on the ground in Colorado, a bellwether state that holds its Super Tuesday caucuses on March 1.
On Monday, the Sanders camp rolled out endorsements of three Democratic members of the Colorado House. Behind them was a diverse crowd, a throng of sign-wavers chanting in English and Spanish about their candidate. Milling around were scattered supporters watching from the sidelines. Afterwards, a Sanders spokeswoman said the lawmakers would stick around for questions from reporters.
On Thursday, the Clinton camp held an event that couldn’t have been more different. At Civic Center Park near the Capitol, the campaign rolled out star-power endorsements from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper (a superdelegate), ex-Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former Mayor Wellington Webb, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, and others. Only a handful of sign-carriers stood behind them, and some passersby and dog-walkers stopped to check it out.
It was clearly a media event, not a rally, designed to get the campaign’s top surrogates on the record with reporters in the days before the March 1 caucuses. Afterwards, as Hickenlooper lingered to speak with Webb, Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Megan Schrader grabbed the governor for an interview, which turned into a minor news conference as other reporters walked over to ask questions. “One more question,” a Clinton spokeswoman said after a few minutes, struggling to corral the governor toward a waiting vehicle. “OK, let’s go, guys, let’s go,” she said.
The way the two events were planned and handled could be viewed as a microcosm of the two campaigns playing out in Colorado. Two weeks ago, when Clinton and Sanders were in Denver for the Democratic Party’s largest fundraiser of the year, Sanders packed the Convention Center for a rally that drew more than 10,000. A few dozen Clinton supporters rallied outside the Sheraton Hotel, and inside their presence was visible among the party faithful who attended the Democratic Party fundraising dinner that evening.
In June, Sanders held one of his largest early rallies of his campaign, drawing a crowd of 5,000 to the University of Denver. Clinton has met with donors in Colorado, and has drawn crowds that have been around 1,000 or more, according to her campaign, but hasn’t attracted the kinds of numbers Sanders has at his rallies. The Clinton campaign notes that in Nevada, also a caucus state where Sanders was getting larger crowds, she still won.
What Clinton has done here, however, is locked up a large portion of Colorado’s superdelegates, like Hickenlooper and all four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation. KGNU radio’s Joseph Richey got a few of those delegates on record in a recent dispatch. (Meanwhile, Clinton has the official endorsements of roughly 10 times the lawmakers Sanders does in Colorado.)
The disparity between superdelegates and the activist base is a point the Sanders campaign has hammered home.
During a recent Sanders “Bernstorm” event in Colorado Springs, the campaign’s Colorado field director Josh Phillips called Clinton’s superdelegate count a “structural disadvantage that we have in the national primary and caucus process.”
In Colorado, caucus-goers elect local delegates to carry the banner for their presidential candidates through a series of conventions in the state and then all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. About 20 percent of the delegates that end up in Philadelphia are superdelegates. In Colorado those are high-placed Democrats like the governor, members of Congress, Democratic National Committee members, and others.
“This is the establishment,” Phillips said. “And right now they’re breaking for the other side about forty to one. That uphill battle is real.”
*A Previous version of this report stated Ken Salazar is a superdelegate. He once was, but is not in 2016.[Photo credit: Corey Hutchins]