It’s 12:30 p.m. on Friday and Neal Walia is as busy as he’s ever been. Between radio shows, campaign speeches, and debates, Walia spends every minute of his campaign reaching out to voters, telling them why he’s running for Congress and challenging Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the District’s incumbent who has been serving in the House of Representatives since 1997.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘what Denver are we?'” Walia said. “Are we the 26-year corporate-backed centrist candidate? Or are we the state that legalized recreational cannabis, ended qualified immunity, and most recently codified reproductive rights into out state law?”
District 1, which stretches over the greater Denver area, has a D+ 55 partisan lean in the newest map redistricted this year, meaning that whichever Democrat secures the party’s nomination is all but confirmed to win the seat come November.
DeGette is popular among residents and has fended off progressive opponents before. In 2018, when Democrats won back the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, she fended off progressive Democrat Saira Rao. DeGette won 68% of the vote in the primary.
With the Colorado primary happening on June 28th, less than two weeks away, Walia is betting that his progressive policies will win this time around.
“The Denver I know is not what is reflected in our current representation…I think we have a real shot to win,” he said.
The primary is fast approaching but Walia says the fight for a more progressive Denver is just beginning.
As the son of Indian immigrants, Walia was the first in his family to be born in the United States. His parents came to the country to pursue a better life for their family.
“I, like many other people, have taken the steps that I was told would allow me to build a better life for me and my family,” he said.
After high school, Walia attended the University of Colorado Boulder to get a bachelor’s degree and majored in political science and international affairs. He then attended CU Denver and earned two master’s degrees.
After graduate school, Walia turned to public policy, working for former Governor John Hickenlooper in his Office of Community Partnerships to help decrease homelessness, then working as a legislative coordinator in Washington D.C.
Yet, in spite of doing all of these things, Walia says he has “never felt more vulnerable.” Walia said that he and his wife are being “crushed” by student debt, the price of childcare has delayed their ability to start a family and his parents have delayed their retirement because of their own economic insecurity.
“It was feeling all these pressures in our life and knowing that there are millions of Americans across the country who are going through what we’re going through, if not totally worse, that’s why I’m running,” he said. “Our communities deserve to have someone who lives the struggles of their constituents, but more importantly, will fight to fix it as if their lives depend on it. Because my life does.”
It’s why Walia has embraced a variety of broad progressive policies he hopes will allow everyday Americans to bounce back from economic insecurity and uplift the lower and middle class. His campaign agenda on his website features general information on his top priorities to do so, yet does not have clear proposals as to how these campaign promises will be paid for or implemented.
“Our obligation is to be as loud and bold and transformational as we can,” Walia said. “That’s why I believe in Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, major federal investments into housing and the homelessness crisis,”
Community is at the heart of Walia’s campaign. While working in Governor Hickenlooper’s cabinet, he joined the Asian Advisory Council and other committees with the goal of building partnerships with residents in and around Denver with the government, heightening awareness of issues that mattered most to the public.
“The way [people] should be involved–like I’ve been involved–at the basic level, it’s being present,” he said.
While presence is a vital factor in building a political campaign, funding and donations are perhaps the most important aspects of winning elections. Congresswoman DeGette reported over $400,000 in campaign funding on hand since the end of last year.
Since launching his candidacy last summer, Walia raised just over $100,000 in his initial quarter, and finished 2021 with about $57,000 in the bank, according to ColoradoPolitics. The CU Independent was unable to find how much the Walia Campaign has on hand as of June 16.
Walia said that he has no ill will against his opponent. If elected, Walia will have to face an increasingly combative, gridlocked Congress, with Democrats holding a tight margin that they’re likely to lose in the upcoming midterm elections.
“The concept of bipartisanship is over,” Walia said. “It’s outdated. It’s an old guard mentality because what we see is the need to fight fire with fire. Republicans have done everything to advance their power…but [Democrats] seem to be playing into their game.”
Walia seems to be a strong fit for representing progressive politics for the Mile High City, but not all progressive groups have warmed up to his campaign. The Colorado chapter of the Working Families Party (CO-WFP), a progressive advocacy group, rescinded their endorsement of Walia in April, saying in a statement that he wasn’t dedicated to running a “serious campaign.”
“Running for Congress, or any office, should be taken seriously, and the lack of Walia’s personal commitment to setting and meeting key campaign metrics including fundraising and voter outreach is inexcusable and unbefitting of office,” said CO-WFP Co-Chair Kiera Hatton Sena in the statement.
Walia also allegedly rejected counsel on campaign best practices from experts and “engaged in hostile behavior towards several WFP leaders and allies,” Sena continued.
CO-WFP’s removal of their endorsement came as a surprise to Walia’s campaign, who responded with their own statement in April saying, “we are disappointed that differences in strategy and fundraising have led to this decision but remain aligned in our collective desire to improve the outcomes for the working families of Denver.”
With Colorado’s primary elections happening in less than two weeks, the window is closing soon for whoever becomes the nominee for Colorado’s District 1. Walia hopes that voters will choose his progressive viewpoints over his opponent’s more traditional Democrat policies.
“We have work to do,” Walia said. “I’m hoping to be the biggest difference.”
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor William Oster at firstname.lastname@example.org.