The race to run against Republican incumbent Senator Cory Gardner in 2020 has begun in earnest, about a year before the Democratic primary. As of this writing, there are 12 declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. While national political media characterizes this as a “donnybrook,” with no sense of order, a number of conversations with Democrats active in statewide and local politics provides a different point of view.
There is a great deal of animus against Gardner amongst Democrats, who express disdain over his close ties to the Trump Administration and support for policies popular with Republicans nationally but not necessarily popular on a state level.
Gardner, who was elected in 2014, won by just 50,000 votes of nearly 2 million cast. Democrats point to the results of the 2016 and 2018 elections as evidence that the tide in the state has shifted, and that Gardner no longer effectively represents his statewide constituents.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton, a Democrat running for President, won by 136,000 votes of 2.6 million cast and in 2018 Democrats running for the House accumulated 300,000 more votes than Republicans. As a result, analysts characterize Gardner as one of the weakest Republican incumbents in this election cycle.
So while the national political media and Gardner’s public statements make it appear as if he’s not worried about the 2020 election, some actions taken out of the public view indicate otherwise.
Private conversations with Democratic officials indicate that they are eager to see a strong nominee result from a competitive process, and they are not worried about the wide field at this time. They believe that such a broad field represents the strength of energy both against Gardner and for the variety of policies advocated by the many Democrats vying for the nomination.
One notable metric for who is being taken seriously in the race is a Facebook post to supporters by Democrat Trish Zornio, who was recently interviewed by the Longmont Observer. Zornio is a first-time candidate with no prior political experience who has been planning to run in this election since 2017. In that message, Zornio shares some details about how running for the Senate has impacted her personal and professional life. Among those impacts is that she has been followed by a Republican “tracker” for almost a year, long before she was even a declared candidate. A tracker is a person or group of persons who are assigned to follow candidates of opposing parties for the purpose of catching them in embarrassing behavior.
A Republican opposition research firm, America Rising, filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request with the University of Colorado – Denver, where Zornio is a lecturer. The Longmont Observer filed a CORA request with the University to obtain the details of the request filed by America Rising. In their request, America Rising asked for emails Zornio sent mentioning Gardner, her salary history and her job application materials.
Responding for the University, Associate University Counsel Chris Puckett said that there were no emails meeting the sought criteria. In the fall and spring of 2018, Zornio earned $7,500 total for teaching two courses. In the fall and spring of 2019, Zornio earned $15,435 for teaching 4 courses. The University also provided a 2017 email sent by Zornio inquiring about an open position to teach and a copy of her resume.
What is notable about this is that the Politico story, which was specifically mentioned to The Observer by Democrats as an example of a faulty narrative in the national media, does not make a single mention of Zornio. This means that either 1) Zornio is being taken much more seriously by Gardner’s campaign as a potential opponent or 2) Gardner’s campaign is so worried about his weaknesses in 2020 that he is deploying significant resources against even longshot candidates.
Asked whether politically motivated open records requests against University faculty risked intimidating non-politically involved faculty members, the University of Colorado – Denver’s Office of University Counsel replied, “The Colorado Open Records Act is clear that if the University is asked for records the University must provide those records unless there is an exception under law.”
A request for comment by America Rising was not returned.