Politics & Government

Insurgents surging in Colorado's Democratic Senate primary

DENVER — He won there himself, but Colorado may be the next state where President Barack Obama loses a fellow Democrat from the Senate.

Obama's lost a strong of statewide elections where he's tried to help: governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia last year, a special election for a Senate seat in Massachusetts this year and a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania that ended Sen. Arlen Specter's long career.

Now Obama is aggressively supporting Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado in a Democratic primary next Tuesday. Yet Bennet could lose to Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, who says he'd be a stronger advocate in the Senate for such things as government-run health insurance as an option for everyone.

A new Denver Post/Survey USA poll this week showed Romanoff up by 3 points over Bennet for the first time, erasing a 17-point Bennet lead in six weeks.

There's no doubt about Obama's support for Bennet, whom the governor appointed to the Senate seat that was left vacant when the president appointed Ken Salazar secretary of the interior.

"Michael has been as good of a senator as I expected him to be," Obama said Tuesday in a telephone call to Colorado voters.

The president also stars in a Bennet TV ad, urging Colorado Democrats to support him

Obama's White House staff also tried to clear the field for Bennet, once dangling a possible job offer in front of Romanoff if he'd stay out of the primary. (The White House also unsuccessfully tried a potential job offer to get Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., to drop a primary challenge to Specter; Sestak stayed in and won.)

After leading Colorado Democrats to win back-to-back majorities in the state House for the first time in more than 40 years, Romanoff bristles at the thought that Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet, a political unknown, to finish Salazar's term

After making his fortune turning around failing businesses, Bennet served as the chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and as Denver's appointed schools chief before being sent to the Senate.

"A lot of Colorado was surprised to be represented by someone they'd never heard of. This is a person the people of Colorado didn't actually hire," Romanoff said in an interview. "Governors don't get to appoint for life. It's arrogant to suggest the voters should defer to the governor's judgment."

Romanoff said his experience forging coalitions in the state legislature made him better qualified to work in the Senate, and that he'd be more aggressive pushing such ideas as government involvement in health care — either providing its own insurance to compete with private insurers or taking over the whole system in a "single payer" system .

"I support single payer. My opponent does not. I would have fought for the public option. My opponent did not," he said.

"My opponent wrote a letter (supporting the public option) but it was just cosmetic. When push came to shove, he didn't push, he didn't shove."

Bennet refused requests for an interview and for a schedule of campaign appearances.

Romanoff said he knew Colorado better than Bennet did thanks to his experience in the legislature and on campaigns for fellow lawmakers and liberal ballot initiatives. That, he said, makes him a stronger general-election candidate against whichever Republican wins that party's primary Tuesday, either Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck or former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.

"I wouldn't run if I didn't think I had the best qualifications and best chance to hold the seat," Romanoff said. "I have a better chance to beat the Republicans."

Romanoff's fueled his come-from-behind surge with hard-hitting ads financed in part when he sold his home and lent $325,000 to his underdog campaign.

One Romanoff ad accuses Bennet of unsavory ties to Wall Street during his private-sector career, alleging that he helped loot billions from companies.

The Denver Post said that Bennet saved companies and jobs, and called the ad misleading and "a shameful example of cynical politics at its worst."

ON THE WEB

Denver Post/Survey USA poll

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