Littwin: Duran shocks the Colorado political world, but maybe not in way she was hoping

Crisanta Duran at the state Capitol on Jan. 10, 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

I can safely predict that Crisanta Duran’s decision not to jump into the Democratic Senate primary — and instead primary Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District — won’t be the last shock in the 2020 Senate race.

But it may be the most stunning. Most Democrats I’ve talked to are either puzzled or furious or some combination of both, which, just spitballing here, is not necessarily the best way to begin a campaign for Congress.

The guessing is that Duran was scared off the Senate race by the many millions it would take to compete and decided she could follow what we should now call the AOC model, in which young lefty Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocked off longtime New York powerhouse Democrat Joe Crowley. But there are a couple of problems. Does Duran really have AOC-level star quality? And while Duran will certainly run to DeGette’s left, a careful look doesn’t reveal a whole lot of room between them. And then there’s this: the 1st CD may be heavily Democratic, but it’s not particularly progressive, certainly not New York-style progressive.

There’s a different model that should concern Duran. You may remember Andrew Romanoff’s 2010 decision to primary Michael Bennet, who was Bill Ritter’s surprise appointment — especially surprising to Romanoff — to take Ken Salazar’s Senate seat. Salazar had left the Senate to join Barack Obama’s cabinet, leaving an opening. 

Against nearly everyone’s advice, Romanoff ran to Bennet’s left without much evidence of actually being very far to his left. The Democratic establishment backed Bennet. The fight got very nasty. And that was that. Bennet won fairly easily and Romanoff is still looking for that Senate job. In fact, he’s running again this time in the primary race that Duran has declined to enter.

There’s no problem with the concept of primarying DeGette, who isn’t guaranteed to keep a seat forever. And waiting your turn, as we’ve seen, is now so 20th century. But this Senate race is the place for any ambitious Democrat to be. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Neguse, who has been in the House for approximately 10 minutes, jumps into the Senate race. If Neguse is a real possibility, why not Duran? The fact is, if she were to run well, the money would come.

You don’t need a pundit to tell you how vulnerable Cory Gardner’s Senate seat has become. In a move that some (well, me) would describe as desperate, Gardner has already endorsed Donald Trump for re-election even though the latest state-by-state Gallup poll has Trump’s approval rating in Colorado at a bottom-feeding 39 percent. Gardner is afraid of being primaried. And he’s running in a state that Trump lost by five points to Hillary Clinton. You can see Gardner has issues.

Meanwhile, to have any chance of flipping the Senate blue in 2020, Democrats must win in Colorado. The race which will undoubtedly break all spending records for any Colorado race. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is looking for the most electable Democrat he can find. At this point, I won’t be surprised if one or more among John Hickenlooper, Ed Perlmutter or Neguse would enter the race.

Neguse has already attracted national attention. Perlmutter dropped out of the governor’s race after, he said, losing fire in his belly, although it may have had a little more to do with all that hot money in Jared Polis’s wallet. In any case, Schumer has already taken Perlmutter’s temperature. Hickenlooper is, of course, running for president (or maybe for vice president or a cabinet post) and just said in Iowa he wasn’t cut out to be a senator, even though Schumer has pushed him, too. We’ll see.

For any Colorado Democrat with high office in mind, it could be a while if you don’t go now. There won’t be a Democratic opening for governor until 2027. If Gardner loses in 2020 — most rate the race a toss-up at this early date — and if Bennet wins in 2022, it could be well into the next decade before a new Dem gets a chance. 

And that may tell you all you need to need to know about why Duran decided against the Senate race, which will get more crowded and possibly more top heavy. What it doesn’t tell you is how disappointing her decision — as a Latina star — is to her supporters and to many others.

We can begin with the obvious. Colorado has never had a female senator or, not incidentally, a female governor. And Duran, the former House speaker, was almost certainly the best positioned woman to break that streak.

Instead, in deciding to primary DeGette, she is taking on the only Colorado woman in the U.S. House.

It’s obviously not Duran’s responsibility to make her decisions based on gender politics. She should do whatever she thinks is best for her. But the irony here is that — in my view, anyway — this was the worst political decision she could have made.

There are several points to consider. One, is Duran better equipped to win the Senate primary or the House primary? DeGette has been running and winning her seat for two decades. It’s the same seat that Pat Schroeder held for 24 years. According to research by people other than me, the last Democratic incumbent to lose a primary for a federal office in Colorado was in 1972, and that was after the district was heavily redrawn.

As for the Senate primary, the present field is led by Mike Johnston, the aforementioned Romanoff, Trish Zornio and Lorena Garcia. Zornio and Garcia will both look to break the glass ceiling, but both will struggle with low name recognition and trouble raising real money. You can expect other women to join the race, but I’m not sure any of them would be as well positioned as Duran.

If the field didn’t get stronger, Duran would have a more than reasonable chance to win. But according to Democratic insiders, Schumer was discouraging her from making the Senate run. And if they had the chance — and I don’t know if they did — I’m sure national House leaders like Nancy Pelosi would also have been discouraging her from taking on DeGette. Meanwhile, the people at Emily’s List, the political group that funds female candidates and was ready to support Duran in a Senate race, are reportedly quite unhappy. It’s a bold move, and she’ll need to convince a lot of people it was also the right move.

The thing is, there’s this other House race, the one coming in 2022. Maybe you’ve heard about it. Colorado will almost certainly get a new House seat following the 2020 census. It will likely be drawn to include parts of the Denver metro area, where most of the growth has happened. It’s possible that parts of the 1st CD could be moved to the new district. You can bet that several women in the state legislature — which adds more women with every election cycle  — will be eyeing that seat.

Duran is 38. She could wait for 2022. She could run for Senate and, even if she loses, boost her standing ahead of 2022. Or she could run for a House seat and, if she loses, make voters wonder if she really is the future of the Democratic Party.


  1. I guess the obvious question for Duran, considering Degette’s mainstream, majority-held views on healthcare, abortion, equal rights, the middle east, environmental policy, stem cell research, fiscal policy, etc…is why do you think you’re going to be successful when Diana beat her primary opponent by a 2 to 1 margin 2018?

    The next logical line of questioning for such a campaign would inevitably try to determine what level of brand damage would be done by the kind of machinations necessary to make up the nearly 40 point gap between two extremely similar candidates.

    My guess is that a bitter and ultimately quixotic primary fight ends up splintering the Latino vote and spending millions of progressive dollars that would have been much more useful elsewhere…without shifting a seat.

    The math just doesn’t support the effort, particularly when you consider the possible negatives. Dems are going to keep that seat either way, so why burn the rocket fuel?

    I’d get it if DD were an ideological outlier,..but she’s not…unless I’m missing something that Duran’s handlers aren’t.

    So, the 900 lbs gorilla in the corner is going to keep asking why Duran isn’t going to spend that money and effort flipping a red district instead of going scorched earth on a safe seat.

  2. In announcing the bid, Duran had a chance to forcefully provide an answer that nearly everyone is asking — why?

    “Time for a new generation of leadership” won’t cut it, not with DeGette (who doesn’t appear to be decrepit), not with Speaker Pelosi, and probably not with the 90,000 primary voters who supported DeGette over Rao. The message especially doesn’t make sense in a House where it takes multiple terms before getting a subcommittee chair, a couple more before getting the committee chair, and 8 or 12 before getting to House leadership positions.

    Pretty soon, Duran will need to explain something beyond “a new generation,” beyond veiled commentary about donations from corporate PACs. I don’t think a whole-hearted “Colorado-01 needs a minority Representative” will fly in a district with a less than 40% non-white population. Justice Democrats already endorsed Rao for her issue positions, and that didn’t go well. “Experience” may mean something, but I don’t recall a signature “win” with her name on it, and her 8 years in the legislature pale in comparison to DeGette’s time in the State House and 22 years in the US House.

    So put me in with nearly everyone else I’ve read so far, expressing more doubt and concern than openness.

  3. Come on Democrats….we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. This is clearly an “opportunist” move on Crisanta’s part. I like Crisanta but why challenge a representative that has demonstrated her leadership abilities. Not once has Congresswoman turned her back on her constituents or Colorado. I understand the need for change but you don’t change something or someone that has “earned her spurs.” Crisanta wait your time, make your move when it counts. REAL DEMOCRATS DON’T CHALLENGE JUST TO CHALLENGE.

  4. I’m still a member of Local 7 and Duran and her father Ernie and their brother need to be investigated.
    She has never worked a real job her entire life.

  5. It took a long time for me to forgive Romanoff for mounting a divisive, unnecessary primary against Bennet in 2010. (And I liked Andrew a lot before that.) Duran will suffer a similar fate among many dems.

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