Rep. Diana DeGette, challenger Saira Rao make their cases one last time for Colorado’s 1st Congressional District

Like many Denver-centric races, any real drama in this district is in the primary.
5 min. read
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette meets with Araceli Velasquez, her family and supporters at Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah, where she’s lived in sanctuary to avoid deportation for nearly 10 months. May 29, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado Democrats' hope for a “blue wave” this fall doesn’t really factor in Colorado's 1st Congressional District, at least not in the larger sense. The seat sits in a deep blue sea that will stay blue. The chance of it flipping red is about as high as the Broncos trading Von Miller to the Browns.

So, like many Denver-centric races, any real drama is in the primary.

And we’ve seen a bit of that in this district’s primary race between U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, an 11-term incumbent and a chief deputy whip as she's been reminding voters, and Saira Rao, an attorney-turned-children’s book publisher who isn’t afraid of calling out her own party. Rao has leveled some accusations about being treated unfairly in the party establishment, while DeGette's campaign has pushed back on some of Rao’s campaign techniques.

By many accounts, the race represents DeGette’s most legitimate challenge in years — but not if you ask her.

“Oh no. I’ve had several over the years,” DeGette said Monday when asked about Rao, adding later, “I always take every election seriously and I believe it’s my job to tell the voters every two years why I should be rehired. I believe that I have done a good job of doing that this year and I feel cautiously optimistic.”

Rao, a political newcomer, said she's feeling pretty good about her chance on Tuesday. Rao has remained committed in her progressive platform, which includes opposing corporate money in politics and ensuring members of disenfranchised communities in the district are represented.

“I feel like however this ends up tomorrow, we’ve won,” Rao said. “We’ve won in really building coalitions all over CD1 that didn’t exist before, bringing together communities that have heard disenfranchised and not heard, African-American communities, Latinx community, Asian-American communities, young folks, old folks, people in tech.”

DeGette said she’s learned over the years that people in her district, even unaffiliated and Republican voters, tend to have a lot in common with her views.

The difference between herself and Rao lies in their leadership, DeGette said.

“It’s really about leadership for the district and fighting for my constituents,” DeGette said. “I am going to be in a perfect position to move our positive agenda through when we take the majority in November.”

Rao said she is one of many people across the country that are becoming the face of the new Democratic Party.

“I’m focused on the bottom 99 percent,” Rao said about who she would represent, adding: “I’m a regular person fighting for regular people.”

DeGette said her U.S.-Mexico border visit produced some results, while Rao criticized it as too little too late.

DeGette joined several other House members to visit Texas on Saturday to visit an immigrant processing center and a “tender care” facility for young kids. Citing people’s concerns with President Donald Trump’s since-rolled-back policy of separating families at the border, DeGette said people thanked her for her weekend visit. She also visited the ICE detention center in Aurora on Sunday.

“It was as sad and shocking as I have feared that it might have been,” DeGette said. She said she met with 45 women on Saturday, mostly from Guatemala and Honduras, whose children had been taken from them at the border. They included at least two nursing moms. Most didn’t know where their kids were.

U.S. House candidate Saira Rao speaks as protesters gathered outside of the GEO private immigrant detention facility in Aurora to speak out against child separations in immigration cases, June 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rao said DeGette has had 22 years to “fight for comprehensive immigration reform.” Instead of visiting the border, Rao said she would have been “fighting (her) ass off” during the same period to create “meaningful change.”

“To show up at the border, four days before the first real primary she’s had, for a photo-op, is not only disingenuous, it’s insulting,” Rao said. “It’s flat-out insulting.”

DeGette said her group’s visit led to results. She said the visit helped to improve coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is under the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to help reunite more families.

Following their visit, DeGette said the government said they would be using Port Isabel, which she visited, as a reuniting center, and said they would not depart anyone until they were reunited with their children and allow parents to make calls to their kids.

“(The) urgent thing is to get the families back together,” DeGette said. She added that “once we do that, we really need to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” which she said must include protection for DREAMERs and dealing with refugees, “in a humane and American way.”

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