In a field of more than a dozen Democratic Senate hopefuls, Dan Baer believes he stands out as the most viable non-politician candidate.
“Of the candidates who have raised enough money to be viable in an election at this level, I’m the only one who isn’t a career politician,” Baer said in an interview in Glenwood Springs.
Baer, a former ambassador under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry in President Barack Obama’s administration, is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.
He and six other Democrats seeking the Senate nod were in Aspen Thursday, hours after former Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he would run for senate.
‘The biggest existential risk’
Climate change is the greatest threat, according to Baer, and will require a “monumental legislative effort,” as well as significant financial investment.
“When I say significant investment, I mean investment on the order of a trillion dollars, not a billion dollars,” Baer said.
The fact that Colorado has significant oil and gas resources is not lost on him, and though he recognizes the need to transition from fossil fuels, he wants to be part of the solution for Colorado energy workers.
“Change always has folks who benefit from it, and folks who, at least in the short term, pay disproportionate costs compared to others. There has to be attention to supporting those for whom this transition is going to be difficult,” Baer said.
Gardner is typically seen as the most vulnerable Republican Senator, which Baer said makes the Colorado Senate race the most important election in 2020 for Democrats wishing to flip the Senate.
“This is a moment when running a campaign against cynicism is important. The biggest existential risk, materially, is climate change. But the biggest existential risk politically speaking is that people give up on institutions of our democracy,” Baer said.
If people don’t believe the American system can work to solve the most important issues, nothing will change, Baer said.
Like many other candidates in recent elections, Baer was inspired to run by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, and encouraged by the 2018 midterm elections.
The race is not short on first-time candidates. Psychologist Diana Bray, Michelle Ferrigno Warren, an immigration activist, Colorado State University professor Ellen Burnes, scientist Trish Zornio and pharmacist Dustin Leitzel are among the crowded field.
Baer said he also “represents a historic candidacy” in that he would be the first openly gay man to serve in the U.S. Senate.
He is not the only LGBTQ candidate, however. Nonprofit activist and candidate for the nomination Lorena Garcia is married to a woman.
Baer believes his experience sets him apart, and positions him to take on Gardner in a unique way.
Gardner, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has positioned himself as strong on China-U.S. relations, and has criticized Trump on a number of foreign policy issues.
Baer said that while Gardner often says the right things on foreign policy, he could use his position in the Senate to confront the president … for example, on his “freelancing, infantile diplomatic approach” to North Korea, but hasn’t done that.
“I think he tries to use foreign policy to separate himself from President Trump, and yet he does nothing to actually stop the devastating actions of the Trump administration and our foreign policy,” Baer said.
The money primary
In the fundraising race, Baer is ahead of Andrew Romanoff, with $1.3 million in contributions as of the June 30 campaign financial reports. But both Baer and Romanoff, who has raised just over $1 million, trail behind Mike Johnston’s $3.4 million in total contributions.
Johnston, a Vail native and former teacher who has served as a state senator and education policy advisor to political candidates, was among the first to announce that he would challenge Gardner.
The other candidates have raised less than $1 million in the race so far.
As a newcomer in the race, Hickenlooper hasn’t disclosed any donations.
Hickenlooper’s wife, Robin Hickenlooper, donated $2,800 (the maximum allowable individual contribution) to Baer in April. She gave the same amount to John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, who is also in the race.
“We need people who we can trust to be in the fight for the right reasons. I think this is a moment when candidates who aren’t conventional are resonating, because people recognize that we’re not living in a conventional time,” Baer said.