Michael Bennet faces insurgent uprising in Colorado Senate primary

Polls show both establishment candidates in the Colorado Senate race – Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Jane Norton – trailing opponents ahead of Tuesday's primary.

By , Staff writer

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    Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado greeted President Obama as the president arrived at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., on Feb. 18. Mr. Obama has backed Senator Bennet in the Colorado Senate primary Tuesday.
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In Colorado, the establishments of both major parties could be in for a rude surprise Tuesday when voters go to the polls for the primaries.

According to primary-eve polling, both appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) could get beat by insurgents – yet another sign of anti-Washington, antiestablishment sentiment within the electorate.

Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) has been surging in polls, now ahead by 3 points in a Denver Post/Survey USA poll. Just six weeks ago, Senator Bennet was ahead by 17 points. And Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a favorite of the conservative “tea party” movement,” has been showing consistent, though single-digit, leads in the polls over Ms. Norton.

Recommended: Democrat vs. Democrat: five tough primaries that pit left against itself

The Democratic race represents a proxy battle between President Obama, who is backing Bennet, and former President Clinton, who backs Mr. Romanoff. Bennet was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Bill Ritter (D), after Mr. Obama nominated Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to be secretary of the Interior.

The Obama White House reportedly dangled a job offer in front of Romanoff to get him not to run, but he was not deterred. Romanoff argues that, given his record as state House speaker, he would be a more effective advocate for Democratic causes, such as a public option for health insurance. Bennet, a former businessman, political aide, and Denver schools chief, has never been elected to office.

“I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think I had the best qualifications and best chance to hold the seat,” Romanoff told McClatchy newspapers.

Romanoff has put his money where his mouth is. He recently sold his house and lent $325,000 to his campaign.

If Romanoff beats Bennet, that would represent yet another loss for Obama-backed candidates, who lost the gubernatorial races last November in New Jersey and Virginia, the special Senate election last January in Massachusetts, and the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday's other races

The Republican Senate primary in Colorado has been equally contentious – and laced with gender references that have made both sides cringe – as the the antiestablishment Mr. Buck appears to have an edge over the former lieutenant governor.

But it’s the gubernatorial primary that has had Colorado Republicans reeling in dismay. Former Rep. Scott McInnis (R), the establishment favorite, appeared on an easy path to the nomination, when charges of plagiarism – in a report on water rights – severely damaged his candidacy. Now businessman Dan Maes has a clear opportunity to win the GOP nomination, though Mr. McInnis could still eke out a victory.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is expected to win the Democratic nomination. To make matters worse for the GOP, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, unhappy with the state of the race, is now running as an independent. Mayor Hickenlooper is favored to win the governorship in November.

Three other states are holding primaries on Tuesday:

Connecticut. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is expected to win the nod for the Democrats for the state’s open Senate US seat, having survived the flap over his claims of military service in the Vietnam War that proved false. The GOP Senate primary is more competitive, but former wrestling CEO Linda McMahon is expected to beat former Rep. Rob Simmons, whose on-again, off-again campaign has hurt his chances.

In the governor’s race, both parties have competitive primaries. In the Republican race, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele leads former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley by four percentage points in a new survey by GOP pollster Neil Newhouse. The Democratic primary, pitting Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy against former Senate candidate Ned Lamont, is also close.

Georgia. The GOP gubernatorial primary is a runoff between former Secretary of State Karen Handel and Rep. Nathan Deal. Ms. Handel won in the first round. This race is another proxy battle among potential 2012 presidential candidates: Handel is backed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while Mr. Deal won the endorsements of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Minnesota. The retirement of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) – another Republican with eyes on 2012 – is giving Democrats (in Minnesota, known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) hope that they can win the governor’s chair for the first time since 1991.

The Democratic primary features former Sen. Mark Dayton, former House minority leader Matt Entenza, and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Recent polls show former Senator Dayton with a double-digit lead. The winner will face Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer, who faces no serious opposition in his primary, and the winner of the Independence Party primary, expected to be former Republican activist Tom Horner.

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