For the second consecutive election cycle, two women will compete to represent Denver — but where do they disagree?

Crisanta Duran doesn’t want to talk about what she’d do better than Rep. Diana DeGette. DeGette doesn’t want to talk about Duran at all.
9 min. read
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette speaks in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis during a unity rally backing him on the Capitol steps, June 29, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Crisanta Duran has been getting questions about her decision not to run for Senate, and she's got her answer ready. In a way, she had it ready before she ever decided to declare for Colorado's first congressional district.

It goes like this: She decided to run for the House because it was the place where she believed she would be most effective.

Duran, the former House Speaker, isn't letting questions about what could have been drown out her enthusiasm. Her decision to run against longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a fellow Democrat, for the Congressional District 1 seat in Denver mystified a lot of people, but she's not really worried about them  -- at least not publicly. That "most effective" phrase has been her go-to line since last year, when her name was floated among Democrats most likely to challenge U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

Duran said during an interview last week she came to her decisions after getting feedback from community members and other people who told her it was time for a change. She will position herself as a progressive problem-solver with eight years of legislative experience under her belt.

"I think it's a very exciting time for young people and Millennials in our country," Duran said. "It is time for a next generation of leadership to be able to step up to the plate and be able to make a difference."

But Duran wouldn't specify if there's something she feels DeGette hasn't done that she thinks she could get done or do better in Washington.

She wants to focus on bringing a new leadership style that emphasizes the "voices and values" of people living in the district to make sure they're lifted and taken to Washington for more consideration. This is one of the areas where Duran will look to set herself apart from DeGette, a Democratic stalwart who's represented Denver and some of its suburbs since 1997.

"Look, my approach in this is not to speak negatively of her," Duran said. "But my approach is to really talk about what I can bring to the table moving forward. And I think that you know, for me, our leadership style, leadership approach and priorities have been different."

How else will she try to create separation between her and DeGette? Duran points out her support for the Green New Deal, a set of guidelines aimed at addressing climate change.

Crisanta Duran, former Colorado Speaker of the House and candidate for the U.S. House, speaks to a reporter at a Sunnyside coffee shop, March 1, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

On Monday, DeGette was in Denver announcing plans to introduce federal legislation seeking to lower e-cigarette use among Colorado teens. She briefly touched upon the Green New Deal, which she hasn't endorsed at this point, with reporters. DeGette, who is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Panel Subcommittee, said the committee has jurisdiction over climate change legislation.

"We're going to be drafting the legislation around that," DeGette said. "I think a lot of the carbon goals in Green New Deal are absolutely spot-on. The Green New Deal is just a resolution. Even if it passed, it wouldn't have the force of law.

"It's not that I don't like it, it's that I don't think that even if you passed it, it would help the situation," DeGette said, adding, "I think Oversight's going to do some hearings on climate as well and so we're going to be looking at drafting legislation very quickly. A lot of those climate goals in the Green New Deal are going to be part of the legislation we're working on."

Emerge Colorado Executive Director Michal Rosenoer said primaries typically tend to push candidates to make strong connections to local community groups. Rosenoer, whose group recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, said it's no coincidence Duran decided to immediately endorse the Green New Deal after announcing as she attempts to attract supporters in solid-blue Denver.

Rosenoer also thinks the move will likely resonate with women voters, whom she believes will once again have high engagement as they spearhead the "resistance" efforts against President Donald Trump.

"We haven't had a primary with such competitive candidates in decades," Rosenoer said. "Hopefully it engages voters in a way we haven't seen in CD1."

DeGette isn't interested in talking about the primary yet.

Shortly after Duran made her announcement, DeGette Chief of Staff Lisa Cohen issued a statement on DeGette's behalf. It basically suggested DeGette is too busy at the moment to worry about a potential 2020 challenge.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver speaks during a press conference at Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver on Monday, March 4, 2019, in City Park West. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

It's the same tone DeGette struck on Monday when she was pressed about the primary. She said she will continue to focus on her role as subcommittee chair. She said she will "let the politics take care of themselves."

"It's a democratic society and that's what elections are for," DeGette said Monday when asked if she was offended Duran is running against her. "But the primary is 16 months away. And so, what I'm really focusing on is issues like this, issues that my constituents care about."

Afterward, she said she didn't want to talk any further about the primary. But when she was asked about when she will be ready to talk about it, DeGette again pointed to her current work in Congress and in the subcommittee. The subcommittee has already held hearings on the Trump Administration's family separation policy and EPA's enforcement.

"I've got a lot going on in the committee and in Congress," DeGette said. "There's a lot going on with my constituents and that's just really what I'm going to be focusing on now."

Duran represents the most formidable challenge DeGette has faced since taking office. It marks the second straight time she will face another woman in the primary.

Saira Rao built her 2018 platform on progressive ideas and managed to fundraise pretty well despite being a first-time candidate. (Rao declined to comment for this story.)

Rao earned 30 percent of votes during the June 2018 primary. She, like other candidates running against more establishment Dems, spoke out about some of the things they dealt with while running.

That result didn't seem to fluster Duran one bit, and she didn't really address them when asked about how she would improve on those numbers.

"If I'm chosen to be the next congresswoman in Congressional District 1, I can hit the ground running and be able to work with other people in Congress I already have relationships with," Duran said.

Hilltop Public Solutions partner Craig Hughes, who previously managed Sen. Michael Bennet's 2010 campaign, said Duran will need to establish why voters should choose her over someone who was overwhelmingly elected the last time they ran. He thinks fundraising will be important, but even more important than that will be establishing a rationale that's appealing to voters.

"That's the case you have to make, is why change?" Hughes said, adding, "You do have to show why you would be a better congressperson."

Was passing up a Senate run for this seat a good idea for Duran?

Depends on who you ask.

"I think Duran probably decided not to run in the Senate because she probably couldn't find a lane for herself in the Democratic primary," said Lindsey Singer, spokesperson for the conservative opposition research firm Colorado Rising Action. "I think if she did, it would have been really difficult for her (to beat) Gardner. I know Gardner is a good candidate ... so I think he'll be tough to beat for whoever comes out of the primary."

Jessica Campbell-Swanson, a Democratic political consultant currently running Candi CdeBaca's City Council campaign in Denver, typically works with progressive candidates.

She pointed out that, across political seats, there are women running against one another. It's happening in local races (like Denver's mayoral race), in congressional races (like CD1) and in the highest seat in the land (the White House).

Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran speaks as legislators and members of the Colorado Education Association rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis on the Capitol steps, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"We have for so long had multiple men choices," Campbell-Swanson said. "I think women would be excited to have multiple women to chose from.

"Generally, we are on a national trend, that female leadership is being increasingly respected and honored and appreciated," Campbell-Swanson said. "That's why we're seeing two strong, female leaders vying for a seat in Congress."

Hughes expects the Senate race in Colorado to end up costing up to $100 million. The race will be extremely high-profile, meaning high pressure since it's a top target for Democrats.

"We see Cory Gardner as probably the top potential seat for Democrats to pick up," Hughes said. "I think Democrats have a right to be optimistic that this is a seat they can win but nobody should be overconfident."

While Hughes said he doesn't know what factored into Duran's decision, he said that for a race like this one, a person really has to want it.

"It really comes down to your gut and what office you really want to hold and go after," Hughes said.

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