AURORA | Backlash is following the release of a secretly-recorded conversation between CD6 hopeful Levi Tillemann and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer when he told the candidate late last year that he should drop out from the race because Denver corporate attorney Jason Crow had already been hand-picked for the race.

“You keep saying I would like you to get out — of course, that’s correct,” Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat said in the tape, recorded by Tillemann. “I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on.”

The Intercept, an online news website, published a detailed account of how Jason Crow was chosen for the competitive CD6 race, saying that the “Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has moved aggressively to crush competitive primaries.”

The DCCC chose Crow for its Red to Blue program, which aims at flipping competitive districts to the Democrats. The campaign has chosen other Democratic candidates in CD6 in the past, such as Morgan Carroll and Andrew Romanoff, but were ultimately unsuccessful at defeating five-term Congressman Mike Coffman.

Hoyer told Tillemann that he was not involved in the decision, and when Tillemann said he thought the judgement was undemocratic, Hoyer said he disagreed.

Colorado Politics reporter Ernest Luning first reported the story back in January. That article didn’t include the recording like the Intercept’s piece did, though it did include many quotations from the recording.

“There are two things I would like you to consider. One may be easier than the other” Hoyer told Tillemann. “First would be: If you stay in the race — and frankly I hope you would not, but I’ll get to that in a second — but if you stay in the race, it would not be useful to the objective to tear down Crow. Crow’s clearly the favorite. That doesn’t mean he’ll win. Just means he’s the favorite.”

Now that the story has gained the attention of national media, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has joined the conversation.

“I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” The Washington Post reported Pelosi telling reporters at a weekly news conference. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”

In Colorado, only one person in a conversation has to consent to a recording. So while secret, it wasn’t illegal.

Progressive PAC Democracy For America is now asking Hoyer to step down from his seat.

“We saw what happens when Democratic Party leaders put their fingers on the scale in primaries in 2006 through 2016, when we lost nearly 1,000 elected offices up and down the ballot,” said PAC executive director Charles Chamberlain. “Steny Hoyer likes to spend a lot of time talking to progressive candidates about electoral viability but, after his exposure in these recordings, it’s time for him to recognize that only thing that’s truly not viable is his leadership role in a House Democratic caucus that depends on an enthusiastic grassroots progressive base for its majority. Steny Hoyer should resign or be removed from House Democratic leadership immediately.”

Tilleman said that would be appropriate.

“He admitted that he does this kind of thing all the time, and it’s been widely reported on in the media, and the problem is that we shouldn’t be fighting to keep down other Democrats,” he said.

On the debacle, Crow’s campaign turned to a local Democrat for insight.

“It’s obvious to me and other activists in our local community why Jason Crow was the overwhelming 2-to-1 winner at our 6th District Assembly,” Laurie Ritchie said in a statement provided by a Crow spokeswoman. “I support him because of his outspoken leadership standing up to the gun lobby, and his principled stance refusing any corporate PAC money campaign contributions. In his campaign, Jason has shown us that he will put our progressive principles into action. It’s no wonder Democrat Jason Crow is already leading Republican Mike Coffman in the polls – he shows up everywhere in our community, and he represents the progressive change we need.”  

Republicans weren’t absent from the conversation either. Coffman’s campaign spokesman said on Twitter that “Steny Hoyer is straight out of the Sopranos in that clip.”

“I kept waiting for the moment where he hit Levi in the shins with a piece of rebar,” he continued.

This isn’t the first outcry about DCCC practices either. In February, the DCCC released opposition research on Laura Moser, a candidate in Texas’s 7th Congressional District. Nearly a month later, Lillian Salerno, a Democratic House candidate in the Dallas-based 32nd Congressional District, said the DCCC was already  favoring another Democrat in the race, according to the Texas Tribune.

Since, other Democratic candidates across the country have echoed a similar experience.

Tillemann told the Sentinel he hopes these stories don’t continue.

“This is happening in dozens and dozens of races across the country. We need to stand for truth and free elections,” he said. “We have a chance for a slam dunk in 2018 and the DCCC is blowing it.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer