Colorado’s 2020 Senate watch: Trish Zornio wants to bring more science to Congress

The first-time candidate is running for Senate, hoping to knock off a vulnerable incumbent.
5 min. read
Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Trish Zornio speaks to a reporter, Feb. 6, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The road to Trish Zornio's U.S. Senate run started where the Democrat hopes it will end: Washington.

About three and a half years ago, Zornio was in D.C. for work when she decided to take in some of the local scenery. A scientist who currently teaches neuroscience at CU Denver, she ended up at a U.S. Senate science committee meeting. She was surprised to learn there were no scientists on the science committee.

"The type of questions they were asking were different than I was accustomed to hearing and I didn't feel like they were comprehensive," Zornio said. "And I just remember thinking, I need to do something to make a better bridge between science and policymakers."

Zornio, 33, is not a political newcomer, though this is the first time she's been a candidate. She's been involved in policy research and development for state bills that need input from the science community. She's participated in other campaign efforts before on behalf of Democrats. She's originally from New Hampshire, where Zornio's father was a town selectman, and she has lived in Colorado for about 10 years now. She lives in Superior.

Getting back to facts and reason by pushing for more evidence-based policy is one of her biggest goals. She's interested in bringing her voice and expertise to Congress to figure out some of the country's biggest problems, like climate change, student loan debt and ensuring money stays in place for scientific studies funded by the feds.

She's part of the surge in first-time candidates mobilized after President Trump's election.

She admits she had an identity trifecta when it came to the type of candidates numerous groups started training to run for office: a woman, a young person and a scientist.

Her official launch coincided with the Womaxn's March in Denver. Zornio said the march was personal for her, adding she's faced "many of the #MeToo moments" that have been widely discussed as part of a larger national conversation.

"When we thought about ways we launched, I wanted to make sure that we did incorporate the value of protecting women's rights and equality," Zornio said.

She launched her exploratory group for a potential run in 2017, which helped her determine a run was viable. The viability part is probably strengthened by the fact that the man she's hoping to face, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, is sitting in what's looking like one of the most vulnerable seats in Congress.

Former Colorado Rep Polly Baca (left) and Trish Zornio watch speakers from the side of the stage. The tax day tax march calling for President Trump to release his returns, April 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

But that means a lot of other people are also taking notice.

On Thursday, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff announced his candidacy after weeks of speculation. It's the second time he'll make a run at the Senate, after unsuccessfully running against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet during the 2010 primary.

So the Democrat candidate tree is bearing a lot of fruit. Romanoff's entrance brings the total number of candidates to six as of right now.

It means Zornio is now shoulder-to-shoulder with established names in Colorado politics. Yet, no one who's so far announced has surprised her.

"At the end of the day, my team and I felt very strongly that we are bringing a completely different background and expertise and platform," Zornio said.

Funny enough, Gardner this week won an award for his work in helping secure federal funding for science.

The Science Coalition, a national nonpartisan organization made up of research universities, announced Monday they had awarded Gardner the Champion of Science Award. He was nominated by CU Boulder, where Zornio previously did research.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The 2018 Republican State Assembly on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, April 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Gardner's record on science includes introducing the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama in 2017. The law helped continue research at research programs including the National Science Foundation and NIST.

"Over the past four years in the Senate, my goal has been to make science bipartisan again, and I'm proud we were able to accomplish this when we passed the landmark American Innovation and Competitiveness Act," Gardner said in a release Monday. "I look forward to continuing to work with Colorado researchers and scientists to advance their important work."

Zornio has heard from scientists who are petitioning the coalition's decision. She didn't think Gardner deserved the honor.

"When you have someone who is adamantly supporting a president and endorsing a president and the policy positions that do not match the science to date from the scientific community ... they in no way deserve recognition for being a proponent of science," Zornio said.

So who's officially running against Gardner?

We've got one name to add and one name to remove since the last time we wrote up this list. These are the people who have announced and/or have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission:

  • Activist James Blanton
  • Former state senator Mike Johnston
  • Community organizer Lorena Garcia
  • Navy veteran Keith Pottratz
  • Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff
  • Scientist Trish Zornio

And who's out?

  • Pharmacist Dustin Leitzel. He confirmed to Denverite on Thursday he's planning on suspending his campaign.

And who will maybe run?

  • Former House Speaker Crisanta Duran
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter

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