New political group tries to rescue Hickenlooper in primary

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FILE - In this Aug. 10, 2019, file photo, then Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, in Des Moines, Iowa. Hickenlooper was supposed to be Democrats' worry-free solution to the Colorado Senate race, but he's stumbled badly in the weeks leading up to the party's June 30 primary. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

DENVER – In a sign of mounting concerns about John Hickenlooper's standing in the Colorado Democratic Senate primary, a new political group is spending at least $1 million on a scathing attack ad against Hickenlooper's rival in the race.

The ad slams former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff for spearheading a package of tough bills opposing illegal immigration in 2006 that the ad calls “the nation's toughest anti-immigrant laws.” Romanoff has long since apologized for the measures.

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Romanoff is the underdog in the June 30 primary, running as a populist insurgent against the establishment's choice, Hickenlooper, who has raised significantly more money. The winner will face Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in November.

The new group, Let's Turn Colorado Blue, formed on Tuesday, one day after Hickenlooper apologized for a 2014 quip comparing politicians to slaves being whipped to row “an ancient slave ship.” Let's Turn Colorado Blue will not have to disclose its donors until after the primary. The group's existence was first reported by The Colorado Sun.

The slave ship gaffe was the latest in a line of stumbles, including garbling the meaning of the phrase Black Lives Matter during recent protests against police violence and fighting a subpoena before being found to have violated the state ethics law while governor. Privately, Colorado Democrats have been concerned about how Hickenlooper will perform in the primary.

Republicans are pulling for Romanoff, seeing him as an easier general election foe. Both the Gardner campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee began to air ads against Hickenlooper last week, leading the Democratic Senate Majority PAC to respond with a spot defending the former governor.

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and other leading state Democrats condemned Romanoff for spending $175,000 to air an attack ad against Hickenlooper. Hours later, the attack ad against Romanoff, which Let's Turn Colorado Blue described as a seven-figure buy, began to circulate.

“After defying a subpoena and dodging 21 debates, Hick is now hiding behind desperate, dark-money attacks,” Romanoff said in a statement. “It's time for his team to come clean: Coloradans deserve to know who's paying your bills and calling the shots.”