Fresh off their top finishes in the New Hampshire primary, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are heading soon to the Denver metro area for big public events. Joe Biden is raising money here Monday night. And a flurry of endorsements by local political figures is about to be unleashed.
The competitive Democratic presidential field is paying renewed attention to Colorado as the eight remaining candidates — down from 11, after Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and two others dropped out this week — barrel through the early contests on the way to Super Tuesday. With mail ballots already out in Colorado and some other states, among more than a dozen with March 3 primaries, the candidates now have to ramp up big — and cover a lot of ground — to keep their momentum going.
Sanders, the progressive U.S. senator from Vermont who won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, has set a rally for 6 p.m. Sunday in Denver, inside the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theatre. Doors open at 4 p.m., the campaign says, and the event is open to the public but an RSVP is encouraged via Sanders’ website. The venue has a seating capacity of 5,000.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, placed a close second Tuesday and narrowly beat Sanders in Iowa last week. He will have a town hall in Aurora at 7 p.m. Feb. 22, according to a campaign event page. The location will be revealed closer to that date, but supporters are encouraged to RSVP on his website.
Both candidates will be making their second major Colorado visits of the 2020 election cycle.
Sanders has had a small staff in Colorado for months, and Buttigieg’s campaign, hoping to capitalize on its all-volunteer effort here so far, is expected to announce the hiring of its first three staffers in Colorado on Thursday. Buttigieg’s lead staffer here will be Ken Gonzalez, who has shifted from organizing duties in Iowa, a campaign spokesperson said.
Biden, the former vice president, is scheduled to visit Denver on Monday for a private fundraiser hosted by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. He is alone among the major candidates in not having had a large public event in Colorado so far this campaign, though he has been sending surrogates.
The race is still fractured, with nobody winning close to a majority in the first two contests as voters wrestle to decide who might be best suited to take on President Donald Trump in November. The next states up are Nevada and South Carolina later this month, followed by Super Tuesday.
The political dynamic in Colorado has been unclear in recent months, with a lack of public polling. The last publicly released poll of Colorado voters, in August, found a tight race between Sanders, Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but much has changed in the field since then.
Also, with Bennet and, initially, former Gov. John Hickenlooper seeking the presidency, many of the state’s highest-profile Democrats held off on endorsements. The end of Bennet’s campaign after a dismal showing in New Hampshire on Tuesday could clear the way for them to take sides.
First out with an endorsement Wednesday was Wellington Webb, the former three-term Denver mayor who left office in 2003. He backed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a self-funded billionaire who is skipping early contests and focusing intensively on Super Tuesday states as well as later contests.
Bloomberg has more than 50 paid staff members on the ground in Colorado, by far the largest campaign footprint, and has been field opening offices quickly since jumping in the race in the fall.
Webb, who is African-American, donated to Bennet, Hickenlooper and Biden in the last year. Biden, though, posted disappointing results this month in the first two early contests, and Webb voiced a strong desire to beat Trump.
In a statement, Webb said he has “been impressed by Mike’s commitment to Black America and to building bridges to communities across the United States.”
Webb’s endorsement comes amid the resurfacing of 2015 comments by Bloomberg about New York City police’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. Bloomberg apologized for that policy last November, just before entering the presidential race.
After a series of presidential candidate visits last summer and early fall, Colorado saw a pause. Candidates began returning, though, in recent months, with Bloomberg and Buttigieg paying new attention to the state.
Buttigieg’s first visit was last month, when about 2,500 people attended a grassroots fundraiser in central Denver.
Sanders last visited Colorado in September, drawing thousands to Denver’s Civic Center park for an evening rally. Four years ago, when Sanders unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, he won Colorado’s caucus.
The state is returning to primary elections for the major parties this year, and analysts say Sanders is likely to face stiffer competition for a contest that’s expected to draw much wider participation than the caucus system.
Staff writers Kirk Mitchell and Alex Burness contributed to this story.