Democrat Hickenlooper favored to win Colorado Senate primary despite stumbles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hopes to secure the state's Democratic U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday after a series of stumbles in a race vital to the party's hopes of recapturing Senate control in November.

Hickenlooper, recruited to run last year by national Democrats after his failed presidential campaign, has been staggered by ethical violations and campaign gaffes. But he remains favored to beat progressive Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker.

The winner will face conservative Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, one of the country's most vulnerable incumbents in a state that has drifted left in recent years, in the Nov. 3 election.

Colorado is one of three states, along with Utah and Oklahoma, holding nominating contests on Tuesday. Colorado and Utah primarily vote through mail-in ballots, minimizing potential problems with in-person voting during the coronavirus outbreak.

In Kentucky, where final results were delayed by the counting of mail-in ballots, establishment-backed Amy McGrath held off a late surge by Black state lawmaker Charles Booker to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, NBC News and Politico projected. She will challenge Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a U.S. senator since 1984.

Hickenlooper has acknowledged he misspoke at a late May debate in Colorado discussing the "Black Lives Matter" movement when he said that every life matters - a phrase criticized for dismissing racism against Black people. He also apologized after a six-year-old quip surfaced in which he compared a politician's schedule to working on a slave ship.

Hickenlooper defied a subpoena from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, eventually testifying only after he was found in contempt. The panel fined him $2,750 on June 12 for violating state ethics laws by accepting free travel when he was governor.

Romanoff argued Hickenlooper's missteps endangered Democratic efforts to beat Gardner, who is closely aligned with Republican President Donald Trump.

National Democrats rushed to Hickenlooper's defense, with outside groups spending more than $2 million on campaign advertising in June. An opinion poll last week showed Hickenlooper with a 30-point lead on Romanoff.

"Hickenlooper was sleepwalking through this campaign so maybe this woke him up," said Floyd Ciruli, a veteran independent pollster in Colorado.

In Utah, former Governor Jon Huntsman, who ran for the White House in 2012 and served as a U.S. ambassador to China and Russia, is making another bid for the governor's office in a crowded Republican primary.

In Oklahoma, voters will consider a ballot measure to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor and disabled, despite the Republican governor's arguments the state cannot afford it.

Republicans also will choose challengers to run against U.S. Representatives Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Ben McAdams of Utah, two endangered Democrats who represent districts that Trump carried in 2016.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bill Berkrot and Howard Goller)

06/30/2020 20:46

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