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Colorado caucuses: An early incumbent warning system?

The results of Tuesday's Colorado caucuses -- where underdog candidates upset establishment favorites in the Democratic and Republican races for Senate -- has some people pointing to them as the latest sign of the anti-politician/anti-Washington/anti-incumbent afoot in the country.

With all but four precincts having reported their results, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) stood at 51 percent while appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) took 42 percent. On the Republican side, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck appeared to have narrowly edged out former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the establishment favorite, by roughly two-tenths of a percent.

Romanoff, hoping to seize some much-needed momentum in the wake of his victory, held a press call this morning to cast the implications of the caucus in the widest possible national political terms.

"Despite the most elaborate effort of the national political machine we won," said Romanoff. "Main Street won, Wall Street lost. That is the message Washington needs to hear."

Romanoff added that there was a common strain that linked he and Buck's win -- a distaste with politics as usual. "If you like the way Washington works, vote for somebody else," Romanoff said.

While Romanoff was ready, willing and able to cast his caucus win (and that of Buck) as reflective of broader national trends, there's were clearly some other more state-based factors at work as well.

The Colorado caucuses are small turnout affairs and, because of that, largely controlled by the most dedicated activists who tend to gather on the extreme ideological left and right of their parties. Both Romanoff and Buck had positioned themselves as the candidate of the most liberal/most conservative elements within the party so it's not terrible surprising then that they performed well.

The caucuses have also proven to be a very imperfect predictor of the eventual nominees in spite of the fact that they do ensure that the top vote-getter has the first ballot slot in the primary.

Take 2004 when former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) and educator Mike Miles (D) won their respective party caucuses but lost the primaries later that year by 22 and 46 points to beer magnate Pete Coors and state Attorney General Ken Salazar, respectively.

In fact, in the 25 years from 1973 to 1998 just three Democrats with the top line on the primary ballot wound up winning the nomination -- a stunning figure that suggests that the activist base in each party is not reflective of the broader primary electorate.

With all that said, don't be fooled by Bennet and or Norton saying that the caucuses were entirely devoid of political meaning. Make no mistake: while neither candidate's loss is anything close to a death blow (as defeats for Romanoff and Buck might have been), both Bennet and Norton wanted to win. Period.

And, both will almost certainly redouble their efforts to break any associations with the political establishment back in Washington or, in Bennet's case, with the Senate itself.

The incumbent began that Senate separation on Tuesday with the first ad of his political career, a commercial shot with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop and an emphasis put on Bennet's short time in the nation's capitol. (In keeping with that theme, Bennet said of the caucus results: "As someone who isn't a political insider, tonight's support is especially meaningful.")

Bennet and Norton have 146 days before the Aug. 10 primary. The task before both of them -- and many other candidates across the country who are seen as the establishment picks -- is to take advantage of the benefits of having the party infrastructure either tacitly or openly behind you (money, most importantly) while not allowing their opponents to cast them as part of the problem rather than a step toward a solution.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 17, 2010; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: President Obama makes his NCAA Tournament picks (and the Fix does too!)


The drone assassins are getting really good.

They are changing the rules.

Posted by: shrink2 | March 17, 2010 11:06 PM | Report abuse

Rep. Lipinski was just on - he said there were 12 people in the Stupak group - but the lists have only 5 or 6 - and they won't say who the other 6 or 7 Congressmen are.


This is extremely significant - if it is true, it means that Nancy is really locked out of getting the votes.


Posted by: 37thand0street | March 17, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Why did Obama go on FoxNews if he wasn't going to answer any questions???

It was disrespectful.

Obama was just trying to create another deception. Obama wants to create the impression of reaching out, yet he refuses to actually address directly the questions.

It makes Obama look like a fool.

Why is it that Obama goes out to fool people, and all he ends up doing is fooling himself ???


Posted by: 37thand0street | March 17, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

malis, welcome back! Your return comes none too soon. The new (fake) 37's been way out of control. It's time for another psychological analysis of 37's unhinged posts/rants perhaps? All the best.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | March 17, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

The health care whip count - I find two main counts on the net - one at and the other at

They tell two different stories.

The count is so close right now, I'm not sure the counts can tell us much beyond there are probably about 14 undecided democrats left - and Nancy needs about 12 to say yes - that is about the room for error - otherwise she doesn't have the votes.


Posted by: 37thand0street | March 17, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

First, not much of an upset. Only question on the D side was how big Romanoff's margin would be, and Bennet clearing 40% was somewhat of a surprise.

My wife is a Romanoff fan and contributed to his 100% sweep at her local precinct caucus—yes a sweep of both people present (more than 40 attended the 2008 caucus meeting).

Buck’s showing, on the other hand, was a little more of a surprise (1% win over Norton)… he apparently got all the support State Sen Tom Wiens had been planning on. Wiens billed himself as the more conservative alternative to Lt. Gov Jane Norton but he get caught up late in some contradictory statements about his own voting record. Apparently quite a few R caucus-goers were first-time Tea-Partiers who all went for the ultra-conservative Buck.

Pretty much a sideshow , however…there’s little doubt Bennet and Norton will win their primaries. Interesting diversion though.

I’m registered “Unaffiliated” (as are more Colorado voters than either R or D) so didn’t participate, but I kind of like Bennet. Here’s what I said several months age when he was the unexpected choice of Gov Bill Ritter to replace Ken Salazar on Salazar’s appointment to Interior Secretary, and I haven’t seen anything that makes me change my mind:

“I very much like that Ritter took a chance. Bennet's an ‘out of the box’
choice—a non-politician who’s an intelligent problem-solver with a
history of bringing competing factions together. I expected Hickenlooper
[Denver Mayor, now D’s Gov candidate since Ritter decided not to run
for reelection]. Thought Ritter might go as far as risking Romanoff (not
'safe'—he has no achievements outside of the legislature and is too
youngto go directly to the Senate), but would have been OK with either.
Choiceof Bennet surprised me and everybody, but his variety of
successes, obvious intelligence, and history of developing innovative,
creative solutions to whatever issues he’s faced, are great if unusual
qualifications for the Senate.

“Primary questions are not about whether he’s the type of person we want
in the Senate, but whether he will prove a skilled enough politician (and
money-raiser) to be elected on his own in 2010. I much prefer that to the
main questions around the last two Republican Senate candidates—“how
badly will they embarrass Colorado?”

Bennet has proven to be a pretty good fund-raiser—much better than Romanoff—and after some early stumbles is picking up the politics pretty well too (his ideas on reforming Senate procedures are viewed quite favorably). My prediction is that Bennet will beat Norton in the general (Norton is no Scott Brown—perhaps she should have posed nude for a magazine centerfold back in the 80’s?)

Posted by: malis | March 17, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

deeman, you'll fit right in,
just a lot more Caps Lock, or,
no caps, no punktashun and no space bar.

Or you could abuse the Enter (carriage return) key.

Keep at it.

Posted by: shrink2 | March 17, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

They are ALL DOOMED! I am THE TEA PARTY, and I shall rain down destruction on all your Houses, so sayeth me, a non-leader, regular kinda guy that shouldn't be drinking too much coffee in the afternoon, especially it being St. Patty's favorite day.

Posted by: deeman | March 17, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the typo; I meant Democrats are doomed. My bad.

Posted by: deeman | March 17, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans are doomed, do you hear me? Doomed, I say! Mwuahahahahahahahahahaha!

Posted by: deeman | March 17, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

"An early incumbent warning system?"

Is it valid to interpret taking out an appointed politician via caucus/primary as an indicator of a national trend, or is The Fix guilty, again, of trying to read too much into one election result?


Posted by: bsimon1 | March 17, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

America is in great shape,
look at the equity and commodity markets.
The dollar is hanging in there right where it needs to be.

The high rollers placed their bets on American futures.

I don't feel sorry for Republicans,
they failed to see the recovery (a Rick Santelli overdose perhaps, a little of that schmuck goes a long way) and did not buy low during the Bush/Cheney hangover.

It is too late now. The real money has been made. Republican voters are suckers.

Posted by: shrink2 | March 17, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Obama is leading his party down a path of destruction - and when that is clear - Obama continues with even more force.

Obama is a joke.

If Obama is able to line up the votes, he is only going to make the public even angier - why would anyon want to do that ?


Posted by: 37thand0street | March 17, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

@Bubbette1: "The time of reckoning is coming in November. It is too late for these deaf elitists who have borrowed and spent the Nation into bankruptcy."
Hear, hear. But the Republicans aren't in control of anything, how are you going to punish them any further?
(See what I did there? It's called sarcasm. It's clear that you're another comically misinformed right winger and the proper way to treat opinionated know-nothings is with derision and scorn.)
Posted by: BigTunaTim
BTT – The facts are nearly 7 out of 10 don’t want the proposed HC bill. The fact is that the nation is borrowing money at record rates and is essentially bankrupt. I think that you, as a kind and compassionate statist, need to apologize to Bubbette1.

Posted by: leapin | March 17, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Why do people keep saying the Republicans have lost, or are not in control. They are winning their campaigns: perpetual warfare, promoting despair about government, indulging big company lobbyists, blocking any moves towards greater equality in the US.

The Republicans are out to prove that government CANNOT work (except for war, protecting property, prions and corporate laissez-faire). Looks like they a re convincing a lot of people, at least on the point that government cannot work.

Posted by: Citizen0 | March 17, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

@Bubbette1: "The time of reckoning is coming in November. It is too late for these deaf elitists who have borrowed and spent the Nation into bankruptcy."

Hear, hear. But the Republicans aren't in control of anything, how are you going to punish them any further?

(See what I did there? It's called sarcasm. It's clear that you're another comically misinformed right winger and the proper way to treat opinionated know-nothings is with derision and scorn.)

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 17, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse


Obama should do the same thing: start listening to the people


Posted by: 37thand0street | March 17, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Bennett and a bunch of other nimrod progressives signed a letter demanding the public option. That needs to be made into a check list as a starting point of who to run out of office in November and 2012.

The time of reckoning is coming in November. It is too late for these deaf elitists who have borrowed and spent the Nation into bankruptcy.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | March 17, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

It was only recently, when Bennet read of few of his emails, that he started acting like a senator that was elected to represent his constituents. I sent the guy a few thoughtful emails and his office sent some very deferential, 'Bennet knows best' responses.

Nonetheless, he has slavishly bowed to all of the demands of his leadership. Bennet is now acting the role of "I ain't part of this Washington mob", in hopes of winning the Colorado Dem primary.

Posted by: Dutra1 | March 17, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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