Kennedy and Polis clear Dem assembly to make primary ballot; Underwood out

Conventional wisdom held that former state treasurer Cary Kennedy would easily win enough delegate votes to make the June Democratic primary ballot. She did that — and then some.

Kennedy took 62 percent of the delegates at Saturday’s Democratic party state assembly, winning the top line spot on the ballot. That was twice what she needed, a convincing victory for a candidate in a crowded and competitive primary for Colorado governor. Congressman Jared Polis took 33 percent of the vote, also guaranteeing his position on the ballot. 

Republican-turned-Democrat Erik Underwood, who struggled for name recognition, won only 5.5 percent of the vote and is now out of the race.

Her supporters waved posters and cheered from the bleachers at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield as she spoke about key issues for Democrats this election cycle.

“This is what democracy looks like,” Kennedy told a crowd of Democratic diehards. “This crazy, bottom-up, people-first process.”

She said she wants to ban assault weapons and enact “red flag” laws that would remove guns from people suspected of being a threat; she wants to lift the revenue cap on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and use that money to invest in education, and she is advocating for a single-payer state healthcare option for Colorado residents.

Kennedy needed to win over delegates to make the primary ballot because, unlike Polis, she did not also collect petitions, the other avenue to the ballot for candidates.

Many delegates said they supported Kennedy for her policies. But others who were on the fence in the lead up to the assembly put politics aside when deciding to cast their vote.

Lindee Brauer, a delegate from Colorado Springs, was in the hallway outside the stadium selling books about President Donald Trump’s policies through the lens of movie villains, like Darth Trump and Trumpzilla. Brauer said her choice was a toss-up between Polis and Kennedy. A deciding factor, she said, was that she wanted to see a woman as governor.

“I think women think differently than men,” Brauer said. “I think it’s time to have a little bit more compassion for each other.”

But this kind of decision-making went both ways. Sara Freed, a delegate from Parker, was undecided until about a week ago. Freed, who said she was a member of the LGBT community, decided to vote for Polis because he is openly gay.

“The LGBT community needs more representation,” Freed said. “(And) that perspective of knowing what it’s like to face that oppression daily.”

Polis and Kennedy will now face off against former state Sen. Mike Johnston, who has already made the ballot through the petition process.  Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is also petitioning on, though her signatures are still being counted.

Polis spoke to many of the same issues as Kennedy, including moving the state’s electricity supply toward 100 percent renewable by 2040. He said Democrats are a party that looks like America, and that he would become the first openly gay governor in the country.  

“Take that Mike Pence,” Polis said.

The 3,200 party delegates sounded optimistic, speaking of the blue wave that led to surprise Democratic victories in Congressional special elections across the country last year. Colorado is a swing state and pivotal ground for both parties.

Many delegates were of a progressive bent; several wore pins that said “Bernie,” for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who won big in the 2016 Democratic caucus when running as a candidate for U.S. president.

Underwood riled up some delegates when he called out Polis for endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when serving as a superdelegate in the 2016 presidential election.

“We lost 2016 and handed it to the Republicans,” said Underwood. “And now we have one of those superdelegates running for governor, Jared Polis. Who ironically is asking for your vote.”

That was one reason why Gabriel McArthur, a Sanders volunteer and delegate from Littleton, said he voted for Kennedy. He said Democrats should move to the left to confront Republicans who are moving to the political right.

Said McArthur: “We’ve got to fight fire with fire.”

Photo of Cary Kennedy by John Herrick