The best, worst, dumbest and weirdest of Colorado politics in 2020

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In a small, dwindling number of hours, 2020 will end. Nothing can be said of it that has not already been said of roaches, rotten eggs and root canals, so let’s leave it at that and dive right in: Here is the best, worst, dumbest and weirdest of Colorado politics in that no good, very bad year, as compiled by reporter Justin Wingerter in consultation with several political observers.

Best federal campaign: Lauren Boebert

When you’re a millennial high school dropout with no political experience and little money who manages to beat a five-term incumbent congressman by 10 percentage points, you’ve earned this superlative. No contest.

“Lauren Boebert accomplished something no Colorado candidate had done since 1972, unseating an incumbent member of Congress in a primary election,” said Dick Wadhams, a former chair of the Colorado Republican Party. “Even though Trump endorsed five-term Congressman Scott Tipton, she convinced Third District primary voters she was the real Trump candidate.”

With a potent Trumpian mix of social media bombast, ultra-conservative platitudes and an unfailing ability to bring attention to herself, Boebert shocked Tipton on June 30. Then she won a general election contest against the far more politically experienced Diane Mitsch Bush on Nov. 3, making her a rising Republican star in Colorado — albeit one who since winning her election has made the biggest wave by backing outgoing President Donald Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on his loss.

Worst campaign: Scott Tipton

When you’re a five-term incumbent congressman who lost to a millennial high school dropout with no political experience and little money by 10 percentage points, you’ve earned this superlative. No contest.

“It would be inaccurate to say that Scott Tipton and his campaign team fell asleep; they were in a coma,” says Jason Bane of Colorado Pols, a Democratic blog.

Aside from sending a few mailers bashing Boebert, Tipton never seemed to acknowledge he had a primary challenger. He skipped forums and did not run TV or radio ads. Then he lost. Badly. There’s not much more to say about Tipton’s campaign because, well, there wasn’t much of a Tipton campaign.

Best legislative campaign: Kevin Priola

The state senator, a Republican from Henderson, continues to defy expectations, demographics and his party’s decline in the state. How? By combining dawn-to-dusk door knocking with a centrist, bipartisan record. The result was a two-point victory in an otherwise Democratic Adams County district.

Both parties poured massive amounts of money into the legislative race, and Democrats attacked Priola on several fronts. But just as in 2016, when Priola first ran and won, the Republican held on, sketching out a blueprint for how Republicans can be victorious in Colorado’s moderately Democratic areas.

“He went door-to-door in the middle of a pandemic and made the case for reelection despite a brutal barrage from progressive interests and a real lack of quality air support from right-wing outside groups,” said Ian Silverii, executive director of Progress Now Colorado. “Priola is a household name in Adams County to be sure, and that gave him a good head start, but running against that many headwinds and still eking out a victory deserves recognition.”

Best local government campaign: Alexis King

Since 2004, district attorneys in the 1st Judicial District (Jefferson and Gilpin counties) have been Republican. Four years ago, Republican Pete Weir won by a solid seven percentage points. Four years before that, Democrats didn’t even nominate a candidate.

Skip ahead to November. Alexis King, a reform-minded Democrat, faced Matthew Durkin, a Republican with decades of experience and the endorsement of The Post. She won by nearly 10 points, a 17-point party swing from 2016, and will be the first woman to hold the position of top prosecutor in the 1st Judicial District.

Best ad: Andrew Romanoff, “Clean Up”

This mid-June ad from the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate was eye-catching, memorable, and accurate. It used former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s famous 2010 shower ad to brutal effect and encapsulated the Senate contender’s awful June in a punchy 30 seconds.

So much so that Colorado’s Democratic establishment rushed to Hickenlooper’s aid. Angrier than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory, they issued statement after sanctimonious statement, decrying the attack ad as too mean.

Worst ad: Giffords, “You Know Who”

This August spot from the gun control group features a man we are told is Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner but who looks more like an overweight Jeff Daniels. Setting aside the fact that guns were not a top issue for voters (this was August 2020), the supposed purpose of the ad — to criticize Gardner for opposing background checks — is lost in strange imagery, like chest hair coming through MAGA pajamas.

Worst political blunder (tie): Hancock’s travel

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s decision to travel for Thanksgiving, after telling Denverites and city staff not to, was immediately criticized by public health officials and politicians in both major political parties. Democrats distanced themselves while Republicans and anti-shutdown conservatives had a field day with it — for weeks.

Worst political blunder (tie): Hick’s contempt

In a slew of unforced errors just weeks before his June primary election, John Hickenlooper refused to appear at a virtual hearing of the Independent Ethics Commission, fought a subpoena in court, lost in court, still refused to comply with the subpoena, and was held in contempt, all because he didn’t like virtual hearings.

His decisions, and those of his lawyers, generated weeks of bad headlines and Republican ad material while accomplishing absolutely nothing. In the end, Hickenlooper still had to testify about his multiple gift ban violations. The virtual format he wasted time and taxpayer money fighting worked just fine after all.

“Because of Hick’s own arrogance, resources national Democrats could have deployed elsewhere were instead poured into the primary to rescue his campaign,” says Kyle Kohli with Compass Colorado, a conservative group.

Despite himself, Hickenlooper pulled off wins against Romanoff and then Gardner.

Greatest sacrifice for a campaign: Teddy Hickenlooper

Look, no teenager playing hoops in the driveway wants to go up for a fadeaway only to be blocked by his or her 68-year-old dad. Much respect to Teddy Hickenlooper for enduring that indignity in aid of his father’s U.S. Senate campaign.

In May, the Hickenlooper campaign posted a video of its candidate swatting Teddy’s shot, walking over to a camera and vowing to “block Mitch McConnell from the chokehold he has on the U.S. Senate.” The video was mocked by some — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — but proved popular, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.

Need more 2020 politics?

Here’s our list of the top 10 political stories of the year.

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