Jennifer Qualteri‘s name has never been printed on a ballot before.
She was a write-in candidate for the Republican party in 2016 for the University of Colorado Board of Regents race in District 1. Democrat Jack Kroll brought in 283,236 votes to her 623, state election records show.
In the Nov. 8 general election, Qualteri’s name will appear opposite Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette as the two vie to represent Colorado’s 1st Congressional District. DeGette is a 13-term incumbent that has represented Denver and some portions of its near suburbs in Washington for a generation.
Federal campaign finance records show that as of June 30, the most recent filing deadline, donors had given DeGette more than $906,000. Qualteri had yet to file a campaign finance report as of that date.
In the face of long odds, Qualteri says she believes in the value of elections as a platform for sharing ideas.
“Denver is a very blue city. No one should ever go unopposed,” said the 61-year-old grandmother who has been volunteering with the Denver GOP for 13 years. “I think the fact that you have more than one party out there with different points of view is a service because you are providing competing ideas.”
DeGette, 65, was in Denver earlier this month to celebrate the grand opening of a recuperative care center for the city’s homeless population. She helped secure $2 million in federal funding for the $46.5 million facility.
With her long tenure in the U.S. House, DeGette emphasized that when she asks for money for local projects Congressional leaders listen because they know the work is legitimate. She views elections as a job interview with voters.
“That’s the advantage of hiring somebody who knows how to legislate and cares about the issues facing their constituents,” DeGette said. “I am happy to put my record out there against anybody.”
Qualteri and DeGette differ on some big issues that are important to Denverites.
DeGette co-chairs the House Pro-Choice Caucus and has been at the forefront of working to protect access to abortions in the U.S. for more than a decade. She lamented that the Democratically controlled House has twice passed a bill that would codify a nationwide right to abortion access and that the legislation is languishing in the Senate.
“This is one of those issues where you can’t really have a patchwork of laws,” DeGette said. “I think freedom to make one’s own decision on health care should be protected. And if the Supreme Court’s not doing it then I think the U.S. Congress should.”
Qualteri is not in favor of a universal abortion ban like the one recently introduced in the Senate by Republican Lindsey Graham. Graham’s bill, unlikely to ever reach a vote in the Democrat-controlled chamber, would ban terminating any pregnancy after 15 weeks. Qualteri feels the abortion debate is too divisive to be decided at the national level.
“That should always have been deferred to the states,” she said. “It’s terrible to say states like Georiga that don’t believe in abortion should have to have abortion.”
A poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this summer found a majority of Georgia voters opposed a restrictive abortion law enacted in that state in July.
Protecting public lands has also been one of DeGette’s long-term priorities in Congress. The Colorado Wilderness Act (also now tied up in the Senate) would permanently designate 660,000 acres in the state as federally protected wilderness areas.
“These areas have Native American petroglyphs and ruins and it’s very important that we protect those for our children and our children’s children,” DeGette said. “Protecting these lands will also bend the curve on climate change.”
Qualteri feels that a better use for this land, rather than bringing it all under the federal umbrella permanently, would be to set some aside to give to indigenous people who have been disposed of their rightful land in Colorado.
“You say, ‘You deserve this land. We took it from you. You get to do what you want with it,’” Qualteri said.
DeGette has received at least 68% of the vote in each of her last three re-election bids dating back to 2016.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020, a wide swath of the Republican party has rejected the results of that election despite the lack of any evidence of fraud or abnormalities in Colorado or any other state.
Qualteri emphasized that she is not an election denier, but she does feel that Denver’s turn to an even darker shade of blue since 2018 is fishy. She expected an influx of more affluent, young professionals to produce a more conservative voter base.
“You still have to question these things, you don’t want to overlook something,” she said.
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