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Scandals involving Democrats in two races could damage party’s chances of taking the Senate

Two Democratic Senate candidates, Chris Janicek in Nebraska and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, are engulfed in controversy.

Updated: June 19, 2020 - 11:11pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Scandals weakening two Democratic Senate candidates have dimmed the party’s hopes of regaining control of the Senate in the November elections.

Chris Janicek, the Democratic nominee running against Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, is involved in a text message scandal that has resulted in calls from state Democrats for him to withdraw from the race.

"Do you think the campaign should spend some money on getting her laid?" Janicek reportedly wrote in a group text, which referred to one of his campaign staffers. “It will probably take three guys.”

A story from the New York Times quotes part of the woman’s response to Janicek’s comments. To date, she has chosen to remain anonymous.

“As a woman who stands up and beside other women, I can’t just pretend this didn’t happen,” she said. “I cannot support your campaign after what you said. I have integrity, morals and values but, most of all I have self respect for myself and fellow women.”

The Nebraska Democratic Party announced that it has withdrawn its support for Janicek’s campaign.

“Our party will not extend resources or any type of support to any candidate that violates our code of conduct and doesn’t treat men and women with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Jane Kleeb, the party’s chair, in a statement.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is also caught up in a scandal leading up to the June 30 primary to decide who will face Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

Republicans now have a 53-45 Senate majority, with the two other senators Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

The Democratic Party would have to gain at least three seats in November to take control of the upper chamber. So every potential win is critical, particularly Colorado, where Democrats had targeted a vulnerable Gardner for defeat. 

Democrats will have a more difficult time stopping Sasse from winning a second term. Despite him occasionally being critical of President Trump, the president has already endorsed Sasse — a bona fide conservative whose race the Cook Political Report rates "Solid Republican." 

According to the Colorado Ethics Commission, Hickenlooper accepted free travel while he served as governor, which violated the state’s ethics laws. He testified before the commission after the free travel was discovered. Prior to that, he did not comply with a subpoena.

The commission ultimately found him guilty of two violations.

Hickenlooper is running against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the primary.

"John Hickenlooper’s cavalcade of blunders in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate is giving his rival Andrew Romanoff a fighting chance," begins a recent story in the Colorado Sun.

The story largely focuses on recent Romanoff internal polling that shows him down 17 percentage points with the June 30 primary just days away.

However, the story also points out that earlier polling showed Romanoff down as many as 50 points. To be sure, Romanoff as a former house speaker has statewide name recognition, but not like two-time governor and former Democratic presidential candidate Hickenlooper, who has the kind of star power state Democrats were counting on to knock off GOP incumbent Gardner. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not return a request for comment in time for publication.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee slammed Hickenlooper for not being transparent. 

“Hickenlooper’s campaign is spiraling out of control because of his own unforced errors: He chose to ignore a subpoena, he was found in contempt for refusing to testify, he broke Colorado ethics laws, and he has refused to be transparent about his other years in office," said NRSC Press Secretary Joanna Rodriguez. "Hickenlooper’s out-of-touch sense of entitlement had him convinced this primary would be a coronation. The only reason that isn’t the case today is because, as his own party said, ‘He’s a hot mess.’”