If any Colorado politician's seat seemed safe for the long haul, it was Diana DeGette's.
The Democratic representative from Colorado's 1st Congressional District cruised to an easy victory in 2018, collecting more than 70 percent of the vote. She's been in office since 1997, and given the area's progressive demographics and her power in the U.S. House (DeGette is the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations affiliate), she seemed to be in a position where she could collect win after win for as long as she wished.
Or maybe not.
On Sunday, February 24, Crisanta Duran, who just wrapped up eight years in the Colorado House, including two as the state's first Latina speaker, announced that she plans to challenge DeGette for District 1's Democratic nomination in 2020.
The rollout was carefully coordinated. During the early evening, she sent out an email blast that begins with the line "I want you to be one of the first to know that I am running to represent Colorado's 1st Congressional District!"
The operative words in that sentence are "one of." Duran had already coordinated an interview with Denver7 that ran during the newscast that immediately followed the end of the Academy Awards broadcast, when viewership would presumably be at its highest.
"The district has changed a lot since 1997, when Congresswoman DeGette was elected, and I applaud the work that she has done...in the past on behalf of the district," Duran told station anchor Anne Trujillo. "But I also think in this time, where we have Donald Trump in the White House, we have seen the elevation of hate and fear. It is time for something new and different."
These themes are emphasized in the slick campaign video that accompanied her revelation.
Duran's rise to prominence has been as swift as it's been smart. Following her 2002 graduation from the University of Denver law school, she took a position as associate counsel for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, a union for which her father, Ernie Duran Jr., served as president.
She found herself thrust into the spotlight circa 2009 when her dad was defeated in a Local 7 re-election bid by Kim Cordova after a report accusing him of nepotism, spending irregularities and a lot more aired on, yes, Denver7. But from the beginning, she understood that the best defense was a good offense, and while her aggressive refutation of claims against Ernie didn't end in the results being overturned, she established herself as a fresh new face on the scene.
The following year, Duran was elected to the Colorado House's 5th District, and she soon won a reputation as a budding powerhouse. In her campaign announcement, she summarized her achievements like so: "Together we worked to raise wages, make healthcare more affordable, and address climate change. We weren't afraid of bold ideas or of reaching across the aisle to rise above divisive politics."
No wonder Westword contributor Chris Bianchi included Duran in his December 31 roundup of top Colorado politicians to watch in 2019.
At the time, however, Duran was thought to be positioning herself for a run against U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, seen as among the most vulnerable big-name Republicans in 2020. Plenty of Dems have announced their intention to take down Gardner, including ex-state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston and Andrew Romanoff, himself a former speaker of the Colorado House.
But rather than join this crowd, Duran opted to go after DeGette, who didn't linger before firing back. At 8:44 p.m. last night, barely two hours after Duran's official declaration, DeGette issued an email salvo of her own.
"Friend," it begins, "I am in Washington preparing for two committee hearings happening this week: investigating the outbreak of measles and the EPA’s lack of enforcement of our environmental laws. But I just got some news that I needed to share with you, my incredible community of supporters, right away. I already have a primary challenge in my 2020 race."
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The note adds: "I know that 2020 may seem far off — and that you worked your hearts out to take the House back for Democrats in 2018. But my race to continue serving you starts today. Donate right away to my campaign to ensure that I have the resources I need to keep my focus where it should be: serving you. Rest assured, I will remain laser-focused on my #1 priority: using my leadership position to hold the Trump administration accountable and fighting for all of you."
For her part, Duran is portraying DeGette in much the same way she might characterize a Republican opponent. In her email, she writes that running "was not an easy decision to make, but the simple truth is that it's time for change. We need a progressive leader who will fight to empower and uplift every Coloradan in Congress."
She goes on to say that "this campaign is going to be an uphill battle with special Interests and dark money donors eager to seal another seat in Congress."
Because the seat in question is already in Democratic hands, Duran risks alienating those in her party who want to focus on defeating Republicans rather than being distracted by in-fighting. But her bid is a gift for political junkies. After all, a race that seemed sure to be a snooze has suddenly turned into what promises to be a battle royale.