The Indy 500: Alice Madden is the first high-profile woman in Dem Senate field. Will she be the last?

Alice Madden, a former Colorado House majority leader and U.S. Energy Department official, has joined 10 others in the race to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020. Madden is the most high-profile woman to join the field, which is expected to grow.
Alice Madden, a former Colorado House majority leader and U.S. Energy Department official, has joined 10 others in the race to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020. Madden is the most high-profile woman to join the field, which is expected to grow. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

For those cheering Alice Madden’s decision to join the already-crowded U.S. Senate Democratic primary race — my scorecard has Madden, the former state House majority leader, at No. 11 in the field — you can thank Crisanta Duran, the former Colorado House majority leader and then House speaker.

“I was going to support Crisanta,’” Madden said. “I didn’t know her all that well, but we had talked over the years and she was very impressive. Then she took a different path, which caught me by surprise.”

It caught nearly everyone by surprise when Duran decided not to run for Senate but instead to primary Diana DeGette in the First Congressional District, which was definitely a different path. And suddenly Madden was taking a look at the path not taken.

Madden didn’t have to look too hard at the field to see that the four most prominent Dem candidates were all male — Mike Johnston, Andrew Romanoff, John Walsh, Dan Baer. And no one has to school Madden on the fact that Colorado has never elected a female senator or governor — a fact she calls “embarrassing,” but then points to Colorado as a leader in electing female legislators. “We have a great bench of women,” she said.

Though the field is already crowded, you can expect a few more women to enter. The two most talked about are Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and state Sen. Kerry Donovan. Insiders I talk to doubt if Griswold, who won office just last year, will run. And there are five other women now in the field — Diana Bray, Ellen Burnes, Lorena Garcia, Stephany Rose Spaulding and Trish Zornio. They are all long shots who would like to be included among the “prominent” by Election Day.

What’s clear to however many Democrats choose to run is that Cory Gardner, who has already endorsed Trump for re-election in a state Trump lost by five points to Hillary Clinton, is considered the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election.

It’s also clear that no frontrunner has emerged in the Democratic race and that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whom Madden talked to before announcing, was actively trying to recruit John Hickenlooper and Ed Perlmutter. Newly elected Rep. Joe Neguse still gets mentioned. Whatever anyone says now, I expect that recruitment to continue. Democrats, underdogs in any case, have no chance of winning back the Senate without winning in blueish Colorado.

And so, Madden, who has spent much of her time since leaving the legislature 10 years ago working on environmental issues, including time in Washington at Obama’s Department of Energy, decided to enter the field. She hasn’t held office for a while, but she did run a statewide at-large race for CU regent in 2016, losing by three points. Losing statewide races could be a theme for this field. Johnston, a former state senator, finished third in the governor’s primary last year. Romanoff, who was the House speaker when Madden was majority leader, lost a Senate primary to Michael Bennet in 2010. He also lost a House race to Mike Coffman in 2014.

Madden says she’s hoping for support from Emily’s List — which supports female candidates and was prepared to support Duran — environmental groups and teachers unions.

“There’s no true environmental champion running,” she said. “I’m ready to be effective from year one. There’s no time for learning on the job. We have 12 years to change things if we want to create a sustainable future … Other candidates are talking about jobs and the economy, which are important, but one of the great things about a clean energy economy is how many jobs it creates.”

And someday, maybe, eventually — come on, it has to happen one day — we’ll see a woman in the job as Colorado senator or governor.

1 COMMENT

  1. Mike, really I think that you need to at least talk to the “underdog” candidates. See what they are up to educate yourself on the so called inexperienced candidates and you will find some surprising aggressive and very knowledgeable women. Talk to Lorena Garcia and you will be surprised to learn that she is very active promoting herself as a people’s candidate. Do not write her off!

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