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Long-shot primary contenders say pandemic won’t stop them

Political insiders await key fundraising reports due in mid-April

Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a Senate contender from Colorado who has lagged in fundraising behind the state’s former governor and onetime presidential candidate John Hickenlooper, has canceled house parties and overhauled his campaign strategy because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But despite uphill odds of winning the state’s primary in June, Romanoff says he’s more committed to the race and plans to press on.

“It’s hard to raise money. It’s impossible to knock on doors,” he said. But the crisis “makes me more determined to win and, better yet, to actually serve. … I don’t want anybody, especially in the richest nation on earth, to suffer or die on account of problems we could fix.”

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Many longer-shot Democratic candidates, like Romanoff, say the pandemic isn’t pushing them out of their primary races, even as they lack support from national party insiders such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. And some say the COVID-19 crisis may highlight certain policy priorities for them, such as expanded public health care.

Some of these seats are among the most pivotal for Democratic efforts to reclaim control of the Senate. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Colorado Senate race, against first-term Republican Cory Gardner, a Toss-up.

Romanoff’s position contrasts with the recent exit of Ross LaJeunesse from the Democratic Senate primary in Maine. The former Google executive dropped out last week and endorsed Sara Gideon, who has the DSCC’s backing in the Toss-up race to take on longtime GOP incumbent Susan Collins.

“I cannot ask my supporters to continue working hard, to continue making financial contributions, to continue volunteering, to continue advocating for my campaign when the country is focused on an unprecedented health and economic crisis,” LaJeunesse said, noting he had planned on a campaign of “meeting voters where they live and work and speaking person to person.”

Fundraising numbers

While the pandemic has extended some battles by pushing primary dates back, several candidates said they did not feel added pressure from the party committee or other Democratic insiders to bow out.

Party operatives said it was too soon to know how the pandemic might affect longer-shot candidates.

“My gut tells me this makes it more challenging,” said Democratic fundraiser Melanie Ulle, the CEO of the Colorado firm Philanthropy Expert. “When there’s uncertainty, people tend toward incumbents or those they know best.”

Still, Ulle noted, all eyes will be on first-quarter fundraising reports to see how candidates perform amid the major changes. The quarter ended Tuesday, and disclosures are due April 15.

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Democrat Eddie Mauro, a businessman and Senate contender in Iowa who has loaned his campaign $2.6 million, said his campaign has pivoted to a digital enterprise, and he plans to remain in the race. The DSCC has endorsed real estate executive Theresa Greenfield as its pick to take on Republican incumbent Joni Ernst in November. Inside Elections rates that race Leans Republican.

“We adapted to how we can still have those conversations, not on somebody’s doorstep but through Google hangouts, phone calls, tele-town halls,” Mauro said.

Mauro, who favors a “Medicare for all who want it” approach to health policy, said the COVID-19 crisis has put new urgency on health and climate matters.

“The next pandemic might not be 100 years from now,” he said, adding that it would come sooner without action on climate change legislation.

No playbook

In Kentucky, state Rep. Charles Booker, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has had to retool his campaign structure, campaign manager Colin Lauderdale said.

“These are such unprecedented times, there’s not really any playbook that tells us this is something that is bad for us against our primary opponent or against McConnell in the fall,” Lauderdale said. “We are still able to raise what we need to continue to run the campaign.”

Booker favors “Medicare for All” and a universal basic income, Lauderdale said. He is considered a longer shot to Amy McGrath, a retired Marine pilot who has the DSCC endorsement.

“We absolutely think the way this pandemic has rattled the American economy definitely makes the case for us of why our platform would be more resilient in a time like this,” he said.

Inside Elections rates the Kentucky Senate contest Solid Republican.

Romanoff, in Colorado, said his campaign struggles were nothing compared with what other people are suffering amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that inspired him to remain in the race.

“The coronavirus didn’t result from our broken health care system, but when we emerge from the pandemic, we ought to figure out how to fix it,” he said.

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