“I never wanted to be a politician. But I love our country, and our country is in trouble, and our representative isn’t doing his job.”
Those were among the first words shared by Karen McCormick, 2018 Democratic candidate for Colorado Congressional District 4, when she sat down for an interview with the Independent back in September.
At that time, McCormick was doing a tour of Southeastern Colorado, talking to voters and listening to their concerns. And while she was, indeed, far from a professional politician—she had been a practicing veterinarian until entering the race roughly 14 months before—the quality and thoughtfulness of her responses plus her familiarity with the issues suggested she was a very fast learner.
A few weeks ago, McCormick granted the Independent a second interview. It was just a few days before the election, and she was making one last swing to get the vote out in this part of the district. She was also joined by her husband, Gregg, as well as political director, Nick Land, and communications director, Meg Brown.
No doubt worn out, she remained energetic, focused on a positive outcome and limited any reflective comments to what she had learned so far from her 16 months as a candidate for the United States Congress.
“When I was deciding whether or not to run,” McCormick begins, “my husband, Gregg, put it best. He said if we were going to do it, we were going to go in one hundred percent. And that’s what we did. I closed my veterinary practice. We turned our house into campaign headquarters. We even had a few staffers sleeping in our basement. This campaign has basically consumed our lives, and running for office is hard, hard work,” she says. “I learned so much, and I met some amazing people while I was campaigning. This is also a really big district, and it takes a lot of work to cover it all.” She laughs and looks at her staffers who nod in agreement. “I think I’ve put more than…what…7,000 miles on my car, right?”
Smiling, Meg Brown just groans. “At least,” she adds.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of running for office, McCormick doesn’t hesitate. “Raising money,” she says, in a tone that is both pragmatic and frustrated. “I didn’t realize that so much time and effort has to be devoted to raising money. It can really interfere with being in touch with the voters.”
From the beginning, McCormick had made the decision to not accept corporate PAC money, which can restrict any campaign. However, challenging though it might have been, McCormick’s campaign was very successful at fundraising, ultimately raising almost one million dollars, mostly from individual donors. She credits that accomplishment to finance director, Ethan Wade, and finance assistant, Maddie Douglas.
By the time the campaign had ended, McCormick had raised more funds than her two term opponent.
Another issue was the lack of coverage from Front Range media like the Denver Post or local television stations. Despite numerous contacts and invitations, reporters just didn’t give her candidacy any attention. McCormick attributes that largely to the attitude that the district has been rated as “solid Republican” for so long that they didn’t see this as a viable race. Unfortunately, the lack of large market media coverage can create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and diminish the viability of what might otherwise be a competitive race.
Again, challenging as that might have been, the McCormick campaign adapted their strategy to accommodate the lack of coverage. McCormick credits field director Elliott Popenhagen and field consultant Sam Lopez (“two of the hardest working people I know”) with being able to “knock on 250,000 doors across the district, send thousands of post cards and organize a volunteer effort that absolutely made a difference on the Eastern Plains.”
Asked what issue was most prominent on voters’ minds, again McCormick doesn’t pause in her answer. “Health care,” she states. “Everyone is concerned about health care. What’s going to happen to it, what’s going to happen with pre-existing conditions, how much higher can the premiums get. The system is broken, and they don’t see anyone in Washington D.C. doing anything to fix it.”
There’s no doubt McCormick was facing serious odds going into the election. District 4 has elected one Democrat in 45 years. One.
Betsy Markey was elected in 2008 after receiving significant support from voters in Fort Collins. However, Markey lost her bid for re-election to Cory Gardner in 2010. In 2011, District 4 was redistricted and Fort Collins was moved to District 2, thus moving a significant number of Democratic voters to the same district as northern suburbs of Denver and Boulder.
Gardner was re-elected in 2012 and then, in 2014, made a successful run for the U.S. Senate, leaving his seat open for Buck who was elected as District 4’s new congressman.
This solid red history contributes to District 4 being described as the most solidly Republican district in the entirety of the mountain states, a fact which could discourage any Democratic candidate.
Nonetheless, McCormick remains unphased. “Like I said, I never wanted to be a politician,” she says. “I don’t view myself as a staunch Democrat. I didn’t run my campaign putting myself out there primarily as a Democrat. I’m an American first, and I’m worried about our country. I grew up in the military. I saw the sacrifices my family made for the United States. I feel like—if I see something wrong with my country—it’s my duty to step up and try to do something. We’ll see on Tuesday if the voters agree.”
When asked if there was anything she would like to say to the people of the Eastern Plains, McCormick smiles as if she’s been waiting for the question. “Yes. People who live on the plains think that those who live on the Front Range aren’t interested in them or their lives or how they’re doing. But I can’t tell you how often I was asked about the rural communities. So many people really wanted to know how people on the plains were reacting to things, how they were faring, how life was going. They were genuinely interested. I think it’s important that people on the plains know that Front Range people are reaching out, in a way.”
At the time of the interview, the election was still a few days into the future. Since then, results of the vote show that Buck was elected to another term with 64.7% of the vote against McCormick’s 39.1%. McCormick received 10 percentage points more of the vote than Buck’s opponent in 2014 and 7.4 percentage points more than his opponent in 2016.
When asked for her reaction, McCormick states, “I would love to encourage every citizen to hold their elected officials accountable and make sure that they are fighting for the things that really matter to them,” she says. “Everyone I spoke to, no matter the party, had concerns about health care affordability and access....yet Mr. Buck is adamantly opposed to working to fix what we have while holding on to the parts of the system that his very own constituents care about. The Medicaid expansion saved health care for the eastern plains and it is critical that people really get that. Also the Farm Bill and tax policy. Mr. Buck is not helping them!” She goes on to add, “I do feel like a winner after this race. We moved the needle on the lopsided demographics and energized voters to get engaged.”
When asked about her plans for the future, McCormick is not certain, at this point. “It’s unlikely that I would run for this office again,” she says. “I do want to find a way to be helpful and purposeful whatever that may be.”
The morning after the election, McCormick posted a message on her Facebook account, thanking her husband, Gregg, her “three incredible children”, other friends and family for their support, numerous volunteers and her campaign manager, Jenny Donovan, for helping her “do what they said couldn’t be done”.
She stated that she hoped “Congressman Ken Buck will be successful in addressing the problems Coloradans have trusted him to solve: make healthcare affordable, create a fairer economy, fight corruption, and most importantly, work to heal our deeply wounded nation.”
She then went on to address Congressman Buck directly.
To Congressman Ken Buck, I truly do hope you will be successful as our representative. In the spirit of nationwide reconciliation, I would like to share these thoughts: After today, I am no longer your opponent. I will be, once again, your constituent, just one of the nearly 750,000 Coloradans counting on you to solve problems, meet challenges, and inspire hope for brighter days ahead. Our district is home to some of our greatest opportunities and some of our hardest struggles. But whether we were sharing coffee and conversation in Longmont, admiring wind turbines near Limon, or rooting for the Tigers in La Junta, the people of our district are some of the most wonderful, hardworking, and generous people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.
So on behalf of every single Coloradan who placed their trust in either you or me this election, please always remember what you, and you alone, have been chosen and entrusted to do: to represent our interests and fight on behalf of each and every one of us. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the time is always right to do what is right.” I hope you’ll seek that kind of wisdom, courage, and dedication in your work as you prepare to re-enter Congress with a change in leadership and many new colleagues.