Romanoff makes Colorado Senate race a grudge match |

Romanoff makes Colorado Senate race a grudge match

Dean Toda
Colorado Springs Gazette

Colorado Republicans have been known for bitter intraparty fights – the nasty contest between Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2006, or the Pete Coors-Bob Schaffer donnybrook for the U.S. Senate nod in 2004.

Now, with the state tinged blue, it’s the Democrats’ turn to bicker.

Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, came to Colorado Springs Wednesday on Day One of his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Michael Bennet.

It’s the first time in memory that an incumbent running for election to a statewide office in Colorado has faced a challenger from the same party.

After formally announcing in Pueblo, Romanoff came to the Penrose Library in downtown Colorado Springs to describe himself as an “underdog Democrat.” But with his long legislative record on economic development, health care and education, and his extensive statewide contacts, he may have enough to offset Bennet’s incumbency advantages.

“There is no one in this race who knows the legislative process better, no one who knows the people of Colorado better, and no one who will work harder to make sure their voices get heard,” Romanoff said.

He didn’t mention Bennet’s name, but made several veiled references. “If you spend all your time sitting on the fence the only thing you’ll get is splinters,” Romanoff said. Bennet has refused to take a stand on an organized labor initiative to end secret ballots in union elections.

“Next year the people of Colorado will get to elect their leaders,” Romanoff said, repeating the sentence for emphasis and adding: “This contest ought to be decided not by a tap on the shoulder but by actual voters.”

Bennet was appointed. In January, when Ken Salazar left the Senate to become Interior secretary, Gov. Bill Ritter skipped Romanoff, a popular Democrat with statewide exposure who was term-limited out of his legislative post. Instead, he appointed Bennet, who had a job as Denver public schools chief, was mostly unknown outside the capital and had never run for public office.

The pick did not sit well with Romanoff’s many friends.

“It’s been obvious from the get-go that there’s been a lot of dissatisfaction in the Democratic Party over Ritter’s selection of Bennet,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “I think what the Romanoff candidacy will do will be to keep that dissatisfaction alive and visible.”

Many Republican observers believe, or hope, that Bennet and Romanoff will tear each other apart. Democrats express the belief, or hope, that the contest will produce a more battle-tested candidate to face the Republican nominee in the 2010 election.

Straayer said the Democrats were trying to “concoct a rationale.”

“I don’t doubt that whatever comes out in the end, the Democrats will come back together,” he said. “But in the meantime it’s going to soak up an awful lot of time, it’s going to soak up an awful lot of money on the Democratic side. That can’t be helpful.”

Romanoff insisted on Wednesday that “my aim is to grow this party, not divide it.” But signs of a Democratic split were already apparent.

Ritter and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, along with Bernie Buescher, the state secretary of state, issued a statement on Tuesday backing Bennet. But Treasurer Cary Kennedy, the only other Democrat in a statewide office, endorsed Romanoff on Wednesday.

State Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs, the majority leader, and Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs, endorsed Romanoff. Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, said he was neutral. He said Bennet and Romanoff were “polite gentlemen” averse to mudslinging, but worried that “their followers may not be as polite.”

Either Democratic candidate has his work cut out for him. A Rasmussen survey released Wednesday had Bennet trailing the most prominent GOP candidate, Jane Norton, by nine points, 45 percent to 36 percent. Romanoff fared only slightly better in the telephone survey of likely Colorado voters, trailing Norton by eight points, 42 percent to 34 percent.

Contact the writer at 476-1654

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