Colorado Democrats condemn interference in Republican primary race

Several luminaries of Colorado Democratic politics signed onto a letter released Monday that condemned recent Democratic ad buys that “intentionally elevates election deniers” in Republican primaries.

Groups tied to Democrats spent millions on ads that nominally criticized some Republican contenders as being “too conservative” for Colorado — a tactic observers saw as boosting candidates in the conservative party’s nominating contests in the hopes of more favorable matchups in the general election.

In Colorado, the most prominent candidates seen to benefit from the tactic were all 2020 election deniers. None won their respective primaries, however.

The letter, compiled by political reform group Issue One, called it “Democratic investments to weaken truth-telling Republican candidates.”

“It is risky and unethical to promote any candidate whose campaign is based on eroding trust in our elections. We must stop this practice, and stop today,” the letter states. “Our democracy is fragile, therefore we cannot tolerate political parties attempting to prop up candidates whose message is to erode our dedication to fair elections.”

It was signed by Colorado’s former U.S. Sens. Gary Hart (1975-1987), Tim Wirth (1987-1993) and Mark Udall (2009-2015) and former U.S. Reps. Patricia Schroeder (1973-1997) and David Skagg (1987-1999) and former Gov. Roy Romer (1987-1999), all Democrats. In total, 35 Democrats from 20 states signed the letter.

Democrats defended the practice as highlighting candidates who were out of step with the state, regardless of timing of the messages. Two of the candidates who question the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, state Rep. Ron Hanks and Greg Lopez, secured the top spot in their bids for U.S. Senate and the governorship, respectively, with victories at the Colorado Republican Party’s state assembly in the spring.

Backers of a federal super PAC that funded ads calling Hanks “too conservative for Colorado,” said it was an aim to weaken both campaigns. Hanks lost the senate nomination to businessman Joe O’Dea.

“We saw two deeply flawed candidates running against each other so we worked to weaken both their campaigns,” Senate Majority PAC President J.B. Poersch said in a July 20 statement after federal disclosures of the funding.

Poersch bragged his group’s spending forced O’Dea to “burn through cash” and, in an effort to shore up party support, campaign further to the right than the general election electorate.

For his part, O’Dea’s campaign distributed mocked-up front pages on election night that announced “O’Dea defeats Schumer.” Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, is the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the PAC behind the advertisements is tied to him.

O’Dea also filed lawsuits and campaign finance complaints over the practice, specifically over mailers that some voters received touting his Republican opponent and without legally required disclosures of who paid for them. His campaign estimates those mailers also cost millions of dollars.

The Colorado Republican Party highlighted the letter, while knocking incumbent Democrats U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. Jared Polis for not condemning the practice. The two Democrats had previously declined to comment on the outside spending. However, the Republican party’s statement only highlighted Romer and Hart’s signatures, and not the other Colorado Democrats.

“It is a sad day for the Democrat Party when the only Democrats showing leadership are ones who served in the 1980’s,” Colorado GOP Executive Director Joe Jackson said about the letter. “… I appreciate both Governor Romer and Senator Hart doing the right thing and showing leadership, I just wish Bennet and Polis would follow their lead.”

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