Election 2020

Colorado Dems Complain It's 2016 All Over Again with Anointed Congressional Candidate

Jason Crow, Democratic candidate for Colorado's 6th Congressional District, is interviewed at the DNC on Oct. 11, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Mark Williams isn’t running in the Colorado Democratic Party’s Sixth District primary, but the Second District candidate said he is outraged by what the national party is accused of trying to do to one of his fellow Democrats.

Levi Tillemann said that not only has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee endorsed another candidate in the Sixth District primary, but one of the most powerful candidates in Washington told him to either leave the race or be quiet during the campaign.

“The elites of the Democratic Party have learned nothing from the rush to coronate the establishment candidate in 2016’s presidential race,” Williams said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee selected Jason Crow last year as one of 11 Democrats across the country the DCCC would back as part of its Red to Blue program, an effort to flip GOP-held seats in Congress.

“Former Army Ranger Jason Crow has never shied away from a tough fight,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) in a statement. “He’s made it his mission to solve big problems for his community and helped lead the charge to bring the Veterans Medical Center to Aurora.”

The move angered Colorado Democrats, and it has given the GOP an opportunity to drive the wedge deeper between those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and members of the party who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Back in November, Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Aurora Sentinel the DCCC’s decision to select Crow over other Democrats in the congressional primary race reminded him of what the party did in the 2016 election.

“Just like Hillary did to Bernie, the Democratic establishment rigging this primary against Levi Tillemann is a powder keg waiting to blow,” Pandol said. “For every dollar Jason Crow accepts from Pelosi and her establishment cronies, he’ll need many more to distance himself from her toxic unpopularity.”

Tillemann said the next month, the Democratic Party’s establishment took even stronger action to encourage Crow’s campaign and discourage the others, when Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told him it was time to walk away from the race.

“If you stay in the race — and, frankly I would hope you would not — but if you stay in the race, it is not useful to the objective to tear down Crow,” Hoyer, the House minority whip, told Tillemann, according to notes the Democrat took immediately after the meeting and released to Colorado Politics.

Tillemann’s notes also show Hoyer tried to cushion the blow a bit by explaining that national Democratic Party elders would be “negligent” if they didn’t get involved in elections where they had a chance to unseat Republicans.

“If we just lay back as leaders that have some experience, as leaders that have gone through that district four or five times and lost, that’s not a rational thing to do,” Tillemann said Hoyer told him.

Did Hoyer really say that? A spokeswoman for the Maryland congressman told Colorado Politics Hoyer never comments to reporters on what is said in private meetings.

But Hoyer said in a statement that he was proud to support Jason Crow for Congress.

“His working-class roots, service as a decorated veteran, and positive, progressive values will make him a welcome addition to the U.S. Congress,” Hoyer said.

Colorado’s congressional Dems — Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polls and Ed Perlmutter — disputed Tillemann’s account of his meeting with Hoyer. The Democrats also said that even though they support the Crow candidacy, they were not throwing any resources behind his campaign.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll agreed with Tillemann that the national DCCC had overstepped its boundaries.

Carroll wrote on Facebook back in November that the endorsement of Crow via the Red to Blue program countered what she’d been promised.

“The DCCC verbally said they would be neutral and in practice just endorsed one of the candidates in CD6. The neutrality policy is ours at the Colorado Democratic Party but it SHOULD be their policy too at the national level. My 2 cents,” Carroll wrote.

Tillemann said local Democratic Party leaders stuck to their promise of remaining neutral in the primary campaign “but unaccountable power brokers in DC have decided to try and rig the system and disenfranchise the voters of CD-6. That’s wrong.”

He described the DCCC’s power play as “trickle down Democracy” in a post on his Facebook page.

“When political insiders want to rig an election they don’t stuff ballot boxes, instead they rely on backroom deals, super PACs, campaign contributions, pressure and threats,” Tillemann wrote.

“That’s what’s going on here, and it extends well beyond Colorado’s 6th District to races across the country where the DCCC has decided to try and push out progressives in favor of more ‘controllable’ Democrats,” Tillemann added.

Coincidentally, Westword noticed in late December how many 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign signs and bumper stickers remained in the Denver area.

Tillemann said that should not surprise anyone.

“The Bernie 2016 campaign gave many people something to believe in again,” Tillemann said. “In a world where too many Americans feel like they are victims of a rigged system.”

Tillemann isn’t putting an “I” on his voter ID card yet. But he’s ready to become a constant Sanders-like thorn in the side of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee if that is what it takes.

Along with expressing his outrage over Rep. Hoyer’s power play, Tillemann promised to “fight the DCCC if they try to turn the Democratic primaries into nothing more than a pep rally for anointed insiders.”