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Obama rallies Michael Bennet supporters as Colorado Democratic primary tightens

By Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

1.President Obama addressed a tele-town hall on behalf of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) last night, the latest signal that the White House is seriously concerned about the possibility that its preferred candidate might lose to his surging rival, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D), in the Aug. 10 primary.

Bennet "has been a breath of fresh air in a town with a lot of hot air," Obama said on the call to 21,000 undecided voters and people who haven't voted. The president said that over the past 18 months, Bennet "has become the go-to guy for reforming America's public schools in Congress" and has stood up to health insurance companies, corporations sending jobs abroad and underhanded credit card companies.

Obama also said that "there have been a lot of negative ads running against Michael in the last few weeks, which is sort of politics as usual."

He closed his five-minute remarks by telling supporters that "Michael is somebody who has stood up on behalf of you, and we need to stand up on his behalf right now."

The intervention by the White House comes as polls show Romanoff pulling even with Bennet after trailing by double digits as recently as two months ago. Romanoff's rise is all the more stunning considering that Bennet has dropped almost $5.8 million on his bid so far, more than three times the $1.7 million Romanoff has spent. (In a further sign of the Bennet camp's dire straits, the senator loaned himself $300,000 over the weekend; Romanoff, meanwhile, sold his home in an effort to provide an extra $325,000 jolt to his bid in the final weeks of the primary campaign.)

The tele-town hall isn't the first time Obama has intervened on Bennet's behalf. In February, the president hosted three fundraisers in Denver. He also appears in a TV ad that Bennet's camp released late last week.

A recent Denver Post poll showed that Obama's approval rating has dropped to 38 percent in Colorado, although it remains at 72 percent among Democrats. A loss by Bennet would not only be a serious blow to the White House; it would also call into question what an Obama endorsement means for Democratic candidates this cycle -- even candidates in Democratic primaries where the president remains popular.

(One factor further complicating the race is the fact that former President Bill Clinton has come out in favor of Romanoff and has penned a fundraising email on his behalf.)

Meanwhile, Romanoff sent out an email to supporters last night seeking to clarify his position on accepting PAC money. He stated that he has asked the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (which is backing Bennet) to "exclude any PAC dollars from contributions or expenditures it makes" on his own behalf should he win the Democratic nod. In an unorthodox move, Romanoff included his home telephone number because, as he put it, Coloradoans "deserve a senator who will answer their questions, as often and as frankly as possible."

Obama's stepped-up role in the race comes as his 2008 rival for the presidency is getting involved as well: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will visit Colorado on Saturday to hold two events for former Lieutenant Gov. Jane Norton, who is in a closely contested primary against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

2. It was another night for (at least a few) outsiders in Tuesday's trio of primaries, with businessman Rick Snyder's win in the Michigan GOP primary for governor and Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick's (D-Mich.) primary loss leading the way.

Republicans think they have another emerging star in Snyder, a former Gateway president who ran under the slogan "one tough nerd." He self-funded his way to relevance in the race and then routed two experienced politicians - Rep. Peter Hoekstra and state Attorney General Mike Cox - by 10 points.

Also in Michigan, Kilpatrick's loss was called early Wednesday morning. In the end, she was largely undone by the problems of her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D), and edged by a capable opponent in state Sen. Hansen Clarke (D).

Kilpatrick became the fourth House incumbent and sixth member of Congress overall to lose a party's nomination. But she's the first since mid-June.

Hoekstra, meanwhile, became just the latest member of Congress to lose a primary for governor to a less-established politician, joining Reps. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) and Artur Davis (D-Ala.) in that regard.

Other incumbents having a scare included Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who each took about 57 percent of the vote against poorly funded opponents. They join myriad other House members who have ceded large chunks of the vote to unheralded opponents in primaries.

But while Snyder and Clarke pulled out the marquee wins Tuesday, it was business as usual for the establishment in the Missouri and Kansas Senate races, as well as the Kansas governor's race. Members of Congress will run on the GOP side in all three races, while the daughter of a former Missouri governor - Secretary of State Robin Carnahan - will carry the Democratic banner in that state's key Senate race.

3. A new poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leading his Republican rival, former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, but Democrats are at a significant disadvantage in terms of voter enthusiasm.

Reid leads Angle 52 percent to 36 percent among registered voters in the Reuters/Ipsos poll. When only likely voters are surveyed, however, that gap is narrowed to only four points -- 48 percent to 44 percent -- well within the poll's 4.6-point margin of error.

The poll shows Reid besting Angle among independents - he takes 36 percent to Angle's 19 percent, with plenty -- 37 percent -- undecided. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said that President Obama's recent visit to the state on behalf of Reid made no difference to them; similarly, 60 percent said that Angle's ties to the "tea party" movement made no difference to them.

Angle has been hammering Reid for his long tenure in the Senate. In a recent appearance at the Nevada Republican Men's Club, Angle remarked that "in spite of what people are saying about this most powerful man, Harry Reid, he has not used his power for our benefit."

But the poll results show that she has a way to go in convincing independents: 49 percent of independents polled said they viewed Reid's position as majority leader as a good thing, while only 33 percent said it was a bad thing.

The poll comes as both campaigns are launching a new round of television ads. Reid's new spot slams Angle on the oil spill in the Gulf, charging that she wants to abolish the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency; it also seizes on remarks Angle made last month in which she called the BP escrow account a "slush fund." (Angle later retracted the comment.)

Angle's latest ad blames Reid for Nevada's plummeting property values. "Harry Reid: the only thing he's delivered for Nevada is hardship," says the narrator of the ad, which also accuses Reid of "wiping out people's retirement savings overnight."

4.Fresh off a weekend stint in Iowa -- his fourth visit to the state this cycle -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) continued his efforts on behalf of 2010 candidates Tuesday, holding a Minneapolis fundraiser for California Senate nominee and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R).

Pawlenty became acquainted with Fiorina while the two were serving as surrogates for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid, according to a Fiorina aide. The two hosted a tele-town hall and event together in Minnesota and also spent time together campaigning on McCain's bus. Pawlenty mentioned Fiorina at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington last week as one of several candidates this cycle who represent the next generation of Republican leaders.

In addition to holding yesterday's Minneapolis Club fundraiser, the Minnesota governor and potential 2012 hopeful was expected to contribute $3,000 to Fiorina's bid.

Exact figures on the amount raised are yet to come, but yesterday's event is sure to give a needed boost to Fiorina, who has been lagging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the money race. Boxer took in $4.6 million in the second quarter and had $11 million on hand as of the end of June. Fiorina raised $2.3 million in the same period and had $950,000 on hand (although she also has considerable personal wealth upon which to draw).

Pawlenty's event comes after several other potential 2012 candidates -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), to name a few -- have already endorsed Fiorina. Of them, Palin's endorsement was perhaps the most pivotal: the former Alaska governor endorsed Fiorina in May, when she was still in the midst of a contentious primary battle.

5. A new Republican poll shows previously untargeted Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) in some real trouble this cycle, leading his GOP opponent by just two points.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll for a state party victory committee shows Hare leading Schilling just 33 percent to 31 percent, with Green Party candidate Roger Davis taking 7 percent.

The incumbent is largely a blank slate to voters, according to the poll. It shows him with a 33 percent favorable rating, compared to 21 percent unfavorable. Only 25 percent of voters say Hare deserves to be reelected, while 46 percent say they want someone else.

Pollster Glen Bolger goes so far as to say Hare is "among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country" and that it's difficult to see how he wins.

Though Hare comes from a somewhat marginal western Illinois district -- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won it with 51 percent of the vote in 2004 - he hasn't even graced the lower tiers of most people's GOP target lists this cycle. Republicans didn't seriously compete for the seat in 2006 when he won it, and he was unopposed last cycle.

Hare's political director, Maggie Depoorter, said the poll lacks credibility.

"The only surprise about this poll is that anyone would claim it is a serious look at the state of the race in the 17th District," Depoorter said. "With undecideds close to 30 percent, this is the second poll put out by the Schilling camp that is clearly not worth the paper it is written on."

By Felicia Sonmez  |  August 4, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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