No rest for Colorado voters in Gardner-Hickenlooper Senate race

Just in time for the dog days of summer, the November election has arrived in Colorado.

Ads already are flooding TV stations and social media platforms for the fall Senate matchup between Sen. Cory Gardner and his challenger, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, with nary a break since last week’s Democratic primary — itself a costly contest — settled that nomination.

New 30-second spots released Tuesday by the candidates’ campaigns will air on broadcast and cable TV stations in six-figure buys. In one, Gardner touts his role in passing a major bipartisan public-lands bill last month. In the other, Hickenlooper takes the Trump administration to task for its latest legal challenge of the Affordable Care Act.

Starting Wednesday, a national digital ad sponsored by the Lincoln Project PAC, formed by Republicans who oppose President Donald Trump’s re-election, will peg Gardner and several other GOP senators as enablers of Trump. According to TV station disclosures, an ad aimed at boosting Gardner will begin running the same day as part of a major buy made by One Nation, a dark-money group allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The fall campaign season usually gets underway closer to Labor Day, but political observers expect the all-out ad blitz to continue as Democrats fix on Gardner’s seat as a key takeover target on their way to a potential Senate majority. Recent polls show Hickenlooper leading in Colorado.

In May, Cross Screen Media and Advertising Analytics, which tracks political ad spending, projected that spending in Senate races nationally would reach nearly $1 billion this year. Colorado’s race alone is expected to generate a hefty share of that — more than $100 million — according to an earlier report by those organizations.

Hickenlooper, who handily defeated Democrat Andrew Romanoff in the June 30 primary, doesn’t mention Gardner in his new TV ad. He contrasts Trump’s attempts to dismantle the health care law through legal challenges with Colorado’s expansion of health insurance coverage among its residents while he was governor.

“In the Senate, I want to stop the surprise medical bills, lower the cost of prescription drugs and make sure you can’t lose coverage if you get COVID-19,” he says.

Gardner’s new ad takes a positive tone, exalting in a clear recent win in Washington. It shows the senator and his family outside their Yuma home, loading an SUV for a summer road trip after “we’ve been locked up for months,” he says, referring to the pandemic.

He points to his role in the recent Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which he wrote and championed along with Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat.

“Whether you ski or fish or just go for a hike,” Gardner says, “Coloradans live in national forests and parks.” He says he “made it my job” to end Congress’ longstanding neglect.

The bill, which Trump has said he’ll sign, will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and end a mounting maintenance backlog at national parks, including in this state. Gardner received credit from advocacy groups for helping get it passed — even if some question his commitment to the environment based on other votes and positions, as reflected in the Colorado Sierra Club’s criticism of the ad Tuesday.

The ads by the One Nation Republican-allied group and by the anti-Trump Lincoln Project weren’t yet available Tuesday evening. The Lincoln Project provided a script and said it planned a “significant push” online.

Targeting Gardner and several other Senate colleagues in tight races, it urges voters to remember that “every time they had a choice between America and Trump, they chose Trump.”

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Colorado AG sues Juul Labs, saying it targeted teens with vaping devices

Colorado is suing e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, Inc., alleging the company intentionally marketed its products to youth and misrepresented them as a healthy alternative to cigarettes.

The lawsuit comes after a nearly yearlong investigation led by Attorney General Phil Weiser, who claims Juul violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act by targeting young smokers with attractive flavors and designs, as well as misleading information about the risks of vaping tobacco. The company pitched JUUL as a smoking cessation product and reduced risk tobacco product, according to a news release from Weiser’s office.

“Addiction to e-cigarettes poses major health risks to Colorado youth,” Weiser said in a statement. “JUUL must be held accountable for its reckless, deceptive, and unconscionable marketing that specifically targeted youth, downplayed its nicotine content and the presence of dangerous chemicals, and deceptively claimed its products as a healthy alternative to cigarettes and as a smoking cessation device.”

As part of the lawsuit, Juul targeted “cool kids” who would want to vape their products through ads and social media campaigns, used ambassadors to give out free samples at convenience stores and leveraged influencers to reach kids and young adults, contributing to Colorado’s e-cigarette epidemic, the news release said.

Flavors like fruit medley and cool mint also made the products more attractive to youth, as did the USB drive-like design of the smoking device, according to the news release.

According to the lawsuit, Juul also used deceptive affiliate marketing, misrepresenting e-cigs as a way to ween people off traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Juul allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to search engine optimization consultant, Quit Media, LLC, which operated a fake smoking cessation website under the name “Quit Smoking Community,” the statements reads. Officials said the website appeared to be operated by a nonprofit group focused on helping smokers, when in fact, it was a tool for Juul to engage in prohibited marketing.

Weiser and the Consumer Protection Division seek money for the damage caused to locals and called for Juul to halt its deceptive marketing practices.

In February, attorneys general from 39 states announced they were investigating Juul Labs for deceptive claims about nicotine in its products. And in October a Colorado teenager sued the vaping company in U.S. District Court, claiming the company’s electronic cigarettes caused him permanent injuries that will require lifelong medical treatment.

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Colorado regulators poised to tackle heart of proposed overhaul of oil, gas regulations

State regulators writing new oil and gas rules have carried on through a global pandemic and massive turmoil in the industry. That might have been the easy part for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, now poised to plunge into the heart of the law that mandates sweeping changes.

A new, full-time commission will take the hand-off from a volunteer commission to take on what’s being called “mission change.” The proposed rules range from where wells should be located to assessing the cumulative impacts of development, protecting important wildlife habitat to deciding who has the right to comment on new drilling.

The broad swath of proposals is intended to enact what’s considered the core of Senate Bill 181. The bill signed into law in April 2019 shifted the language of the COGCC’s mission from “fostering” oil and gas development while protecting public health and the environment to “regulating” the industry in a way that safeguards the public and environment.

The new five-member professional commission, another change required by SB181, will hear from various interest groups leading up to a multi-day hearing scheduled to start Aug. 24.

The state Air Quality Control Commission is also writing rules aimed at cutting emissions from well and gas sites.

“This mission change rule-making is really where we see how successful Senate Bill 181 can be,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “The old mission used to be about promoting oil and gas development. That’s not a modern charge for an agency that people expect to protect public health, neighborhoods and the environment.”

Last year, the Democratic-controlled legislature approved the bill revamping oil and gas regulations after stepped-up drilling in and near communities along the northern Front Range fueled growing concerns and complaints about air quality and health. In 2019, Colorado was the country’s fifth-largest oil producer and seventh-largest natural gas producer.

However, low oil prices — due to an oversupply and a severe drop in demand after the coronavirus pandemic hit — have changed the landscape for energy companies nationwide. Even before the pandemic, many companies had scaled back spending and development plans because of heavy debt loads.

“The industry is on its knees. You already had significant capital constraints. You had oil and gas prices that were already weak and then the pandemic just exacerbated all of that,” said Howard Boigon, an oil and gas lawyer who just stepped down from the commission after three years.

Boigon expects the COGCC to get requests to slow down or delay the rule-making. Does he think the calls should be heeded? “My short answer is yes,” he said.

The commission and COGCC staff completed work in two important areas, Boigon said. The commission approved new rules for underground flow lines, which carry oil and gas from wells and run on or near a well site. And, in June, the commission adopted stronger rules for maintaining the integrity of the well bore, the hole that’s drilled to access oil or gas. The new rules are intended to better protect groundwater. They order more frequent checks of the cement and pipes that are part of the well construction.

The mission-change rules are more general and “will require a lot of discussion and argument,” Boigon said. Oil and gas companies have laid off or furloughed people and are trying not to spend money. “To add this kind of intensive rule making and to do it in a setting where you have to do a lot of it virtually is really a big challenge.”

But Nordini said it’s been clear for a while that the industry is one of boom and busts and regulations need to take that into account.

“For instance, how do we handle abandoned wells? How can the public have confidence that when they’re in a bust cycle we don’t end up holding the bag on abandoned wells, orphan wells?” Nordini asked.

The commission will consider requiring bigger bonds to cover costs if companies abandon wells without cleaning and securing the sites, but not until the mission-change rules are adopted. Boigon favors moving the financial proposals to the head of the line because they deal with a specific, important issue.

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said there was a lot of agreement on the rules adopted so far because people from all sides worked for months on them.

“Now, we’re moving into the much broader mission-change proposals,” Haley said. “You hear us talking about needing more time. There really are technical, important things that we think you need to spend a little time getting right.”

The pace is the problem, but not in the way the industry says, said Anne Lee Foster with Safe and Healthy Colorado, which advocates for strengthening regulations.

“It’s been an incredibly slow process in which permits have continued to be approved without health and safety regulations in place,” Foster said. “The few rule makings that have been completed have not addressed the real heart of Senate Bill 181, to protect public health and safety. Many concessions were made to industry to protect their profits.”

Foster points to the requirement in the flow line rules that companies publicly map the location of the thousands of miles of oil and gas lines over which people live, work and. The COGCC didn’t require the degree of detail on maps that reform advocates sought after companies raised concerns about security.

A house explosion in Firestone in 2017 that killed Mark Martinez and his brother in law, Joey Irwin, made dealing with flow lines a priority when investigators determined the cause was an inactive but uncapped and leaking line.

Jeff Robbins, the former COGCC director who is now chairman of the commission, said although the pandemic delayed work, he expects approval of the mission-change rules to be only six weeks behind schedule. The commission has held a number of hearings online, sometimes drawing hundreds of participants.

Dave Devanney of the Western Colorado Alliance said he’s looking forward to decisions on the upcoming rules, particularly well setbacks. He recently moved from Battlement Mesa to the Front Range but is still involved in fighting the location of well pads near homes in the Western Slope community and near the Colorado River.

And Devanney supports requiring companies to detail the potential cumulative impacts before they can drill.

“As a resident of Battlement Mesa, a community surrounded by oil and gas development and with development in the community, you can’t help but ask how much is too much,” he said. “When do we draw the line and say that’s all the pollution we can introduce into the environment?”

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It’s now a crime for Colorado doctors to impregnate patients with their own sperm

Doctors who artificially inseminate patients with their own sperm or that of other donors without a patient’s permission will soon be subject to felony charges and civil lawsuits.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 1014, which had bipartisan support, into law on Monday.

The bill was introduced after Grand Junction gynecologist Dr. Paul B. Jones was accused last year of using his own sperm to impregnate women over three decades.

Health care providers who use a donor without consent from a patient can be charged with a class 6 felony and face up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. The penalties would apply to insemination, donation of eggs or sperm, donation of embryos, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, and sperm injections.

Doctors can also be sued “for unprofessional conduct” under their medical licenses, and if they lose, would have to pay attorney and legal fees, as well as damages determined through the legal process or $50,000 per child.

Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, a bill sponsor, said Monday he doesn’t expect the law to be used often, but it will give those who have been victimized a way to pursue civil action.

“It’s very devastating for those who discovered this for all sorts of reasons you can imagine, not to mention the simple fact that when you have that many people who have had the DNA of one individual, they may be meeting their half brother and half sister, and the implications are just really bizarre and disturbing and life-changing for the people who have been affected,” he said.

The law will go into effect 90 days after the General Assembly’s June 15 adjournment.

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Colorado politics: Who is Lauren Boebert?

Congressional candidate Lauren Boebert grabbed national headlines Tuesday with a stunning Republican primary win over five-term Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

The first question for some: Who is Lauren Boebert?

Boebert, 33, is the mother of four boys and was previously best known as the founder, owner and manager of Shooters Grill in Rifle, where waitresses carry loaded guns and customers order the M16 burrito or the guac nine burger or the Swiss and Wesson.

Boebert’s husband, Jayson, has worked his entire adult life in oil and gas fields, primarily in western Colorado, according to her campaign website.

What political experience does she have?

Boebert has never held or even run for political office before, but she has shown a talent for attaching herself to salient issues and making headlines for her activism, which surely helped her Tuesday.

She reopened her restaurant in early May in defiance of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ coronavirus order closing them, prompting the suspension of her food license.

And last September, she showed up at a metro Denver campaign event for Beto O’Rourke, then a presidential candidate running on gun control. Boebert grabbed a microphone and told him, “Hell no, you won’t take our guns.”

She’s also active in anti-National Popular Vote Compact efforts — an issue that has been popular among western Colorado Republicans. Boebert says she collected signatures to get the matter on November ballots.

Why did she win?

As you might suspect, that depends who you ask. The question can be framed another way: Why did Tipton, a five-term congressman, lose?

Tipton hardly campaigned in the primary, seemingly believing he would win easily, as he usually does. In emails to supporters and in social media posts, he never mentioned Boebert and rarely mentioned there was an election Tuesday.

Boebert, on the other hand, ran a spirited campaign, hitting Tipton on several issues and claiming she was the more adamant supporter of President Donald Trump, which endeared her to many Republicans in the district.

Does she believe in QAnon?

As a flurry of headlines in national news outlets popped up Tuesday night, many claimed that Boebert is a supporter of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that involves secret plots against Trump, international child sex trafficking rings, and the faked death of John F. Kennedy Jr., among other far-out ideas.

It might be more accurate to say Boebert has been Q-curious. Boebert was a guest on a QAnon-friendly web program and said she was “familiar with that” theory. “I hope that this is real. It only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values and that’s what I am for.”

Tuesday night, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement that “Washington Republicans should immediately disavow Lauren Boebert and her extremist, dangerous conspiracy theories.”

But don’t count on that. The National Republican Congressional Committee instead congratulated Boebert on her victory and accused Democrats of being conspiracy theorists for believing theories about Trump and Russia related to impeachment.

Can she win in November?

Definitely — the seat has been in Republican hands for a decade — but the race just became much more interesting.

Tipton won re-election over Diane Mitsch Bush by 8 percentage points in 2018, a comfortable but not overwhelming margin. Mitsch Bush will now face Boebert in November, and races are almost always closer when there isn’t an incumbent.

Both the DCCC and NRCC put out memos Wednesday morning explaining how they can win in November. The DCCC pointed to Mitsch Bush’s fundraising — she is better at it than Boebert — and Boebert’s comments on QAnon.

The NRCC says Mitsch Bush is “far too liberal to compete in this solid red district” and claims the 3rd District “is very much Trump country.” The president won the 3rd District by a dozen percentage points in 2016.

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Colorado companies ride a rising tide of oil prices higher

The biggest quarterly jump in oil prices in three decades helped shares of several Colorado companies double and even triple in value during the second quarter from depressed levels.

Buoyed by support from the Federal Reserve and the reopening of the economy, most Colorado shares joined the larger U.S. markets, rising sharply in late March, April, May and June after cratering in February and March.

But the move in domestic oil prices from single-digit levels in April to just shy of $40 a barrel on Tuesday gave energy companies an extra push.

The Bloomberg Colorado index, a price-weighted basket of 59 stocks headquartered in the state, rose by nearly a third during the second quarter, which beat out the 17.8% rise in the Dow Jones industrial average, the 19.95% gain in the S&P 500 and even the 30.6% gain in the Nasdaq composite.

For the first half of the year, the Bloomberg Colorado index is down 4.9%, while the Dow is off 9.5%, the S&P 500 is off 4.04%. The big winners remain technology stocks, with the Nasdaq up 12.1%.

Although the reopening of the economy was behind some of the rebound in the second quarter, the bigger driver appears to be the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented purchases of government, mortgage and corporate debt.

Abundant fiscal stimulus domestically and oil production cuts globally also helped. A rebound in oil prices made shares of several Colorado petroleum companies top performers during the quarter. They included QEP Resources, up 285.6%; Antero Resources, up 256.3% Ovintiv, up 253.7%; Centennial Resources, up 238.4%; SM Energy up 207.4%, and DCP Midstream, up 177.6%.

But not every energy company reversed course.  Hallador Energy shares were the state’s worst performer during the second quarter, dropping nearly 31%. Other big losers in the up quarter included Advanced Emissions Solutions, off 26.2%; Pure Cycle, down 17.6%; Brickell Biotech, down 16% and Echostar Corp., down 12.5%.

The online travel booking company Liberty TripAdvisor’s A shares, the ones most commonly traded, rebounded 18.3% during the quarter, but remain down 71% this year, not surprising given the ongoing limitations on leisure travel due to the outbreak.

But the company’s B shares, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, went haywire. They went from $4.75 on April 14 to $59 by April 16. By June 14, they were back down to $20 a share, only to triple six days later to $63 a share.

The moves were so extreme that the company’s executives issued a statement saying they had no role in the volatility.

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Colorado turnout sets new record for nonpresidential primary before polls even close

Vote casting in Colorado’s Tuesday primary contest has been fast and furious, eclipsing the million mark over the weekend and easily outpacing the number of ballots returned on primary Election Day two years ago.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 1.4 million ballots had been returned to clerk’s offices statewide compared to the 1.16 million ballots cast in the 2018 primary. The election two years ago set a record for the largest primary turnout among Colorado registered voters in at least a decade.

Politics watchers in Colorado have theories for the surge in voting this year ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the roiling political atmosphere centered on racial injustice to the fact that the state’s first presidential primary in 20 years — held just four months ago — helped smooth out registration hiccups that can lower voter participation.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold showed off a mobile voting center in Denver’s Swansea neighborhood Tuesday morning, telling reporters that the state’s versatile election system — with multiple ways to fill out and return ballots — is the “national standard.”

“At no time in our state’s history has voter access been more important than right now,” Griswold said. “The pandemic and the protests of police brutality of Black Americans that we have seen reinforces how vital voting is to our society.”

Political analyst Eric Sondermann agreed that “people’s antenna are highly tuned in at this moment” and that “the stakes of all political issues are elevated,” as streets in cities across the nation filled with protesters following the death of a Black Minneapolis man at the hands of police in May.

Sondermann admitted to being somewhat surprised by the size of the gap between turnout in 2020 and 2018 given the fact that there is just one statewide race on this ballot — the contest between John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in November.

Democratic primary ballots are being returned at a far greater rate than Republican ballots — 796,000 to 512,000. Unaffiliated voters in Colorado were able to participate in primaries for the first time starting two years ago, after voters passed a measure allowing those not registered to a party to take part in primary elections. Unaffiliateds can vote either party’s ballot but not both.

The uptick in 2020 voting is echoed in counties big and small. Denver has already received more than 154,000 ballots from voters and that’s not counting the ballots that came in during the hours before polls closed Tuesday. The 2018 primary saw just over 146,000 ballots cast by Denverites when all was said and done.

“We have a very forward outreach effort now,” said Paul López, Denver’s clerk and recorder.

In Chaffee County, Clerk & Recorder Lori Mitchell said she has already gotten back nearly 6,200 primary ballots as of Monday, well north of the 5,730 ballots that were cast in June 2018.

She pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as a possible factor in the voter participation increase this year.

“People are at home and they feel a little helpless, but they can vote,” Mitchell said. “People are feeling this is something they can control.”

She also said Chaffee County has made it as easy as possible for people to vote, opening a drive-thru voting center where people using various modes of transport — horseback, stilts, a unicycle — are dropping off their ballots.

Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk and current executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said one difference between 2018 and now is that 2020 is a presidential election year, which has historically goosed turnout.

Colorado’s presidential primary took place in March, and the 1.8 million voters who participated updated their information then, so they were ready to vote in June, Anderson said.

“I think the presidential primary was a huge advantage to energizing voters,” she said.

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Colorado lawmakers brace for possibility of Governor Polis’ first veto in 2020

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is likely to veto a bill meant to limit opioid prescriptions — and, thus, to curb future opioid addiction and overdose cases — according to the bill’s sponsors.

A Polis spokesman wouldn’t confirm Monday whether a veto is coming, but the governor did make clear in an April 1 letter to lawmakers that he would not sign any more insurance mandates in 2020, “except where there is an urgent need for additional benefits related to COVID-19.” Insurance mandates that might reduce costs in the long term can be costlier in the short term and reduce accessibility of coverage, Polis wrote in the letter.

The latest mandate he’s considering vetoing, House Bill 1085, seeks to steer patients from opioids to alternate treatment providers by requiring insurance companies to cover visits to occupational therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists. The bill, which passed both chambers of the legislature, sits before Polis at a time when experts worry the existing opioid crisis could get worse.

State Rep. Chris Kennedy, a lead sponsor of the bill, said Polis told him he thinks HB-1085 is, on its own, a good idea.

“He bent over backwards to express support for the bill and the goals, and said that in a vacuum there’s no question he’d support it,” said Kennedy, who spoke at length with the governor by phone.

But that doesn’t mean Polis will support the bill.

“He was clearly trying to set me up for disappointment,” Kennedy said. “… He expressed a willingness to reconsider, so I don’t know that it’s 100% decided that he’s going to veto it, but I got a pretty clear indication.”

State Sen. Faith Winter got the same message.

“We keep sending them information, but it seems to be unpersuasive,” she said.

Supporters of the bill believe it’s needed to prevent addiction and death in a state where heroin addiction has skyrocketed and opioid overdoses quadrupled in a 20-year period. But they also see it as a way to save on health care costs in the future.

“The investment in preventive care saves costs over the long term, and saves lives,” Kennedy said. “We know that the costs of dealing with someone going through opioid addiction are really high, and that when someone ends up in the emergency room the costs are really high, not to mention that they could lose their lives.”

Colorado’s insurance industry registered officially as neutral on this bill, but only after extensive conversations with Kennedy. Amanda Massey, executive director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, the state’s trade association for health insurance companies, echoed the governor’s concerns.

“There is always going to be a cost when they expand coverage,” Massey said.

Said Winter, “If we’re only going to talk about costs, and I don’t think we should, having people addicted to opioids is very expensive.”

Polis, in his second year as governor, has vetoed no bills in 2020 after vetoing five in 2019. He has until July 15 to make a decision on the opioids bill.

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Colorado primary: Andrew Romanoff seeks to upset John Hickenlooper

As he walked door to door in Denver’s northeast Montbello neighborhood Saturday morning, leaving two campaign flyers on every porch, 25-year-old Nick Tuta of Boulder explained what Tuesday’s election means to him.

“This is a really good opportunity to put someone in office who won’t just listen to us, but who will actually be working with us and fighting for us in the Senate,” he said through a mask. “The Green New Deal, Medicare for All — these are things we really need in our society right now.”

Tuta and a dozen other members of the youth-led and climate-focused Sunrise Movement canvassed the neighborhood on behalf of Andrew Romanoff, who’s competing against former Gov. John Hickenlooper in a closely watched U.S. Senate Democratic primary.

After a campaign season unlike any other, in which part assemblies went virtual and in-person events ground to a halt for months, the final votes are due by 7 p.m. Tuesday. In addition to the Democratic U.S. Senate matchup, the 3rd Congressional District has primaries on both the Democratic and Republican sides, and there are a number of statehouse and district attorney primaries in the Denver metro area.

Romanoff enters Tuesday an underdog even though Hickenlooper had a rocky month that included two ethics violations. The former governor and Denver mayor is the favorite of the Democratic Party establishment both in Colorado and Washington, D.C., who compelled him to run for Senate last summer.

“This will be a campaign with mission,” Hickenlooper told supporters in a virtual pep talk Saturday. “The opportunity is there, if we can get people mobilized and make sure people vote — vote in this primary but then go out, get that muscle exercised, so they’ll vote in November. This could be the election that finally changes the world.”

“It’s going to be a long, hard battle,” Hickenlooper added, looking ahead as he often does to November’s contest against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. “It’s going to be a brawl. … It’s going to be a long slog.”

Romanoff spent his final two weeks of the campaign distracted by a matter even more important to him than Tuesday’s election: the declining health of his father, who died Sunday after a series of strokes and falls. Hickenlooper sent his condolences, a gentle moment after a tense month in the head-to-head contest.

About 20 Democrats ran for U.S. Senate, but many top challengers bowed out after Hickenlooper entered in August. Eight remained until the spring, when only the moderate Hickenlooper and the progressive Romanoff made their way onto the June 30 ballot. An eleventh-hour court challenge to add other candidates who blamed the coronavirus for signature-gathering difficulties was approved by a Denver judge but later rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court.

And so, the past two months have been a head-to-head bout between the two. In three debates plus forums, television ads, press releases and speeches, Romanoff pulled few punches, laying out stark contrasts on health care, the environment, campaign finance and a slew of other top Democratic priorities.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, largely avoided talking about Romanoff, keeping the focus on Gardner and President Donald Trump, in accordance with his long history of positive campaigning. When it did come time to criticize Romanoff, for running an accurate but attacking ad June 19, the criticisms came from Hickenlooper’s allies in the Colorado Capitol and in Congress, not from the candidate himself.

The two candidates have prioritized a similar trio of issues — health care, climate, and the economy — but laid out differing plans for dealing with them. Hickenlooper has often cited his past record as governor and Denver’s mayor, while Romanoff has emphasized more aspirational and ambitious plans for the future.

Romanoff has been popular with climate activists, championing a Green New Deal and claiming Hickenlooper is too close to Colorado’s oil and gas industry. He has been endorsed by many of the state and nation’s top climate activists, including former U.S. Senate candidate Diana Bray.

“I don’t necessarily trust the polls,” Bray said. “Everything is up for grabs, as a monumental reset is occurring, and I believe that Andrew will win the primary.”

Hickenlooper has been popular with gun control activists, winning endorsements from most major gun control groups in the country and campaigning alongside prominent activists in the movement, such as Gabrielle Giffords and Shannon Watts. The latter spoke at a campaign phone banking event Saturday.

“We have a chance to flip the Senate to a gun sense majority and that happens if (Hickenlooper) gets elected,” said Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action. “We are fired up and ready to go.”

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Colorado bill tightening vaccine exemptions is signed into law

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a controversial vaccine bill Friday afternoon with no fanfare or advance notice.

Senate Bill 163, which adds a step for parents who want to exempt their children from vaccines, received final legislative approval on the last days of the 2020 session. It had received pushback from a vocal minority of parents who oppose restrictions on vaccine exemptions.

The new law requires parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids to either provide an exemption from a medical professional or watch an online video about vaccines and submit a certificate of completion. Also, school districts must provide students and parents with their schools’ vaccination and exemption rates.

The law goes into effect immediately.

Polis gave his support for the bill aimed at increasing Colorado’s vaccination rates, among the lowest in the country, after opposing a similar bill last year.

Republicans — except one of the bill’s sponsors — voted against it, saying it violates parents’ rights and creates privacy issues. Legislative support for the bill was not in question given that Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly, but hundreds of parents attended hearings to testify against the bill, making it difficult to pass after the coronavirus pandemic shortened lawmakers’ session.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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