U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, an 11-term lawmaker from Denver, easily secured a place in the Democratic primary, but she may face one of her toughest re-election challenges in years.
DeGette, the party’s chief deputy whip, took 64 percent of the vote at the 1st Congressional District assembly Friday, where 37 percent of the Democratic activists picked first-time candidate Saira Rao as their favorite. The vote qualifies both for the June 26 primary.
Rao outraised DeGette in the first three months of 2018, with a campaign haul that topped $250,000. DeGette raised $240,000 in the same period, but she had more cash in the bank ahead of the primary.
DeGette dismissed concerns about a primary challenge. “I think you saw tonight my game is already pretty high,” she said in an interview after the vote.
In her speech to delegates, the incumbent made her lengthy tenure and leadership position as the chief deputy Democratic whip the focus. “Here’s the difference in this election — the issue is leadership,” she said.
If Democrats win the U.S. House, she said, she will become chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee. “I just have one thing to say: Imagine me with subpoena power,” she said, pledging to subpoena EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
Rao’s speech hit Democratic highlights — support for single-payer health care, tougher gun laws, cheaper prescription drugs and protection for migrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children — as she positioned herself further to the partisan left.
And she made subtle critiques of DeGette, criticizing her acceptance of corporate political action committee donations and suggesting she is absent too much from the district. “I will always listen to you. I will always be accessible to you. And that is my promise,” Rao said.
Rao, the co-founder of a publishing company that focuses on creating diverse children’s books, also submitted signatures to earn a place on the ballot. Denver council members Rafael Espinoza and Debbie Ortega endorsed her campaign Friday.
The difference in her campaign, Rao said, is she “stands for something, not just against something.”