Buck, Romanoff look to wins at Colorado assembly
This week's wins by Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in Pennsylvania and ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) in Kentucky were the clearest sign yet that voters this year are set on rejecting establishment candidates in favor of fresh faces.
This weekend, we could see further evidence of how that anti-incumbent mood is playing out in Colorado -- one of the swingiest of swing states.
In the state's Senate race, the two "establishment" candidates aren't likely to be nominated by their parties at their state assembly on Saturday, despite leading in the polls -- a prognosis less grim than it might seem, however, due to the relatively low bar for each candidate to petition their way onto the Aug. 10 primary ballot.
On the Republican side, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) has held a consistent lead over Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R), although some recent polls show him closing the gap.
Norton stunned many in her party in April when she announced that she was bypassing the assembly process in favor of petitioning her way on the ballot. Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams responded by barring Norton from having any presence at the assembly.
Buck's campaign has been gearing up to make a showing this weekend, which they hope will build on the momentum he's been gaining following an endorsement by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and a $400,000 TV ad buy by Americans for Job Security.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D), who has been leading former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) in public polls, has also opted to make his way onto the ballot via the petition process.
But unlike Norton, Bennet is not eschewing the state assembly. Bennet campaign sources say they're confident they'll reach the 30 percent threshold of delegates needed to make it onto the August 10 ballot, but even so, they're gearing up for an assembly win by Romanoff, who they call the "prohibitive favorite" in the caucus process.
The impact of Buck's and Romanoff's likely wins this weekend is widely open to debate due to the state's unique nominating process.
Unlike in Utah, where Sen. Bob Bennett (R) loss at the state party convention meant he had no other option to get on the ballot other than to run as a write-in, candidates in Colorado also have the option of petitioning their way onto the ballot by submitting 1,500 signatures from registered party members in each of the state's seven House districts.
Moreover, both Bennet -- rocking the single "t"! -- and Norton have sought to cast the caucus process itself as an insider-dominated affair. Norton has played up her efforts to collect petitions as an effort to reach a broader portion of the GOP electorate, and a Norton spokesperson emphasized to the Fix yesterday that "we have to reach beyond party insiders."
A Bennet spokesperson noted that Bennet has "brought in a lot of new people" through the petition process, and Bennet himself remarked after losing to Romanoff in the March precinct caucuses that "as someone who isn't a political insider, tonight's support is especially meaningful." The Bennet campaign has long argued that as a former state House Speaker, Romanoff has spent years cultivating the very sort of people who attend precinct caucuses and state Assembly gatherings.
While both sides will compete to spin the results this weekend, recent Colorado electoral history suggests the caucus process isn't always the most reliable indicator of who will win: In 2004, neither then state Attorney General Ken Salazar (D) nor eventual GOP nominee Pete Coors (R), prevailed in their party caucuses, and from 1973 to 1998, just three Democrats who won in the caucus process ended up winning their party's nomination.
(Worth noting: On the Republican side, no candidate who has skipped the assembly entirely has ever won statewide, according to Buck spokesperson Owen Loftus.)
On top of that, Romanoff has to overcome Bennet's significant fundraising advantage. At the end of the first quarter, Bennet had more than $3.5 million cash-on-hand -- a seven-to-one advantage over Romanoff's $500,000 -- and has begun putting that money to work with a series of TV ads launched in March.
The money gap between Buck and Norton is narrower -- Norton had $643,000 cash-on-hand at the end of the first quarter, compared to $417,000 for Buck. With DeMint's backing, Buck's likely to see his fundraising rise -- but former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) has hinted at a Norton endorsement, and will be visiting the state this weekend.
-- Felicia Sonmez
May 20, 2010; 12:11 PM ET
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