Norton joins GOP Senate race from Colorado
DENVER – Some Republicans say former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton is their best chance to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet next year.
But Norton didn’t even mention Bennet on Tuesday when she kicked off her campaign. Instead, she had strong words for President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress.
“At every turn, Washington’s giant hand seems to be grabbing everything in sight,” said Norton, who told a crowd of about 100 supporters at a Denver hotel that ruling Democrats have “unleashed a tidal wave of spending.”
It appears Norton is angling to tap into Colorado opposition to Obama, who carried Colorado last year but is struggling to hold onto support here. Tracking polls by Gallup from January through June showed Coloradans gave the president the lowest approval rating of any state he won: 55 percent.
Norton slammed Obama’s first big act as president – the $787 billion economic stimulus package, which was signed into law in Denver.
“The Democrats in Washington said all this stimulus spending would create jobs. It hasn’t. It won’t,” Norton said.
Slipping support for the president may explain why Republicans are fielding an astounding six candidates with nearly a year to go before the GOP primary. Others include Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier.
However, Norton’s entry brings what many Republicans expect to be an accomplished fundraiser to the contest. They’ll need the firepower. Bennet had raised more than $2.6 million for his re-election by midsummer – about seven times more than his closest Republican competitor.
Supporters say Norton will be up to the fundraising challenge. She’s held statewide office before and counts national Republican luminaries such as Arizona Sen. John McCain as friends. Norton is the beneficiary of a $500-a-person fundraiser in Washington later this month. (She’s no relation to former Interior Secretary Gail Norton, also of Colorado.)
Further indication Norton is a state GOP insider – she was introduced by former Gov. Bill Owens, whom Norton called “Colorado’s greatest governor.”
Some Colorado Republicans, though, have griped Norton is too much of an insider. Former Rep. Tom Tancredo criticized her in The Denver Post on Tuesday and said that out-of-state Republicans are promoting her.
Buck has made similar arguments, saying the National Republican Senatorial Committee was meddling in the Colorado race, something the national GOP has denied. Buck sent an e-mail to supporters last month disupting reports he would drop out when Norton joined the race.
“Our party’s nominee will be chosen by Colorado’s grassroots Republicans, not by political operatives in Washington D.C.,” Buck wrote.
Norton supporters at the Denver announcement weren’t bothered by the candidate’s insider status. Dave Diepenbrock of Arvada pointed out that Bennet grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and is even better connected, attending elite schools and being appointed to the seat.
“We have a carpet-bagger in office now,” said Diepenbrock, 64.
Norton also planned campaign announcements in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction on Tuesday.
Bennet’s slate of opponents gets even bigger Wednesday, when former Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff launches his Senate bid, becoming Bennet’s first challenge from a fellow Democrat. The senator’s campaign manager has not commented on Bennet’s potential opponents.