Thursday, August 05, 2010

Colorado U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Colorado U.S. Senate

August 5, 2010
89 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The 2004 election of Democrat Ken Salazar to the U.S. Senate was one of the few bright points for the party that election and began a trend of Democrats besting the GOP in the Centennial State for the next two election cycles.

Salazar would have been difficult to defeat for a second term, so Republicans caught a break when President-Elect Obama chose the Senator to become Secretary of the Interior. That allowed the state's Democrat Governor Bill Ritter (who has been unpopular and is not seeking reelection) to select the pretty unknown Michael Bennet to serve in the Congressional Upper Chamber. Bennet was the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools at the time, and had never run for office before. His appointment was seen as disappointing to some other ambitious Democrats in the state, including the former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Despite efforts of the Obama White House to protect the new incumbent Senator, which include potential job offers to Romanoff, he entered the Democrat primary contest. Several months ago, Romanoff bested Bennet in party caucuses, indicating that he had strong support among liberal activists in the state. However, with the power of incumbency and the White House behind him, Bennet had been considered a heavy favorite to win the party's nomination. He has been able to raise significantly more money than Romanoff, but recent polls show Romanoff might have caught the incumbent and could possibly finish first in next Tuesday's primary, making Bennet the third incumbent Senator to fail to make it to the November ballot. While the White House is supporting the incumbent, interestingly enough, former President Bill Clinton has gone his own way and publicly endorsed the challenger Romanoff.

While the Democrat primary has become increasingly competitive, Republicans have their own one on one contest that has gotten even more bitter than that of the Democrats. Buoyed by hopes of defeating a non elected incumbent, several Republicans initially entered the contest, but the field eventually cleared out in favor of two candidates. They are Jane Norton, the former Lt. Governor who is the choice of establishment Republicans both in Washington D.C. and Colorado and Ken Buck, the District Attorney of Weld County, who has the endorsement of many conservative activists around the state and elsewhere, including influential Senator Jim DeMint of Colorado. There has been talk that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin might endorse Norton, but that has yet to occur to this point. Norton does have the endorsement of another Republican female folk-hero in Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

For months, Norton looked to be in good shape to take the primary and polls also showed her significantly ahead of both Democrats in the race. As the campaign has progressed though, Buck was able to use the political environment to his advantage and concerns about Norton as a campaigner have helped move Buck into the lead. Recently, the two candidates have gone to lengths to make themselves more conservative and have argued over who would be better for the Tea Party movement. Buck has been caught on tape making some political gaffes, including referring to the fact that he wore cowboy boots while his female opponent wore high heels. Norton used that line against him in an effective political ad. The most recent primary poll from Survey USA still shows Buck ahead by a few points, but many believe that the Republican primary is a tossup and Norton, who is considered a more appealing candidate to Independents, could still win the nomination. Conventional wisdom in the state is seeming to suggest that Norton has capitalized on Buck's missteps and could have the momentum once again.

Both Survey USA and Rasmussen Reports have polled this race recently and have some different results. As mentioned, only Survey USA has asked about the primary, and it shows that either of the four candidates could win the primary on Tuesday, though Romanoff and Buck were in the lead. Survey USA shows a much closer general election contest with Bennet slightly ahead of Norton and tied with Buck, while Romanoff is also tied with Buck, but behind Norton by five points. Rasmussen's numbers are more friendly for Republicans with Norton nine points ahead of the incumbent Bennet, but only four ahead of Romanoff. They also show Buck with identical six point leads over both Democrats.

For GOP supporters such as myself, that is a lot to digest in regards to which Republican would be stronger, which Democrat would be weaker, and what the overall political situation is. Based on track record, and what is expected to be a very strong year for GOP Senate candidates, I am more inclined to go with Rasmussen's numbers, at least for now. I do think that Norton would be a better bet for GOP victory in November, but that Buck might very well have an advantage to. One could go back and forth over which Democrat the GOP should hope to face. Bennet might be hampered by being an incumbent Senator and some votes he might have cast, while Romanoff would have less campaign cash on hand and could be painted as more liberal.

This is a race which will be worth watching and could eventually move sharply in either direction. Whichever party is able to heal quicker from the wounds of the primary might play a tale in which succeeds in the big fall contest, as the negative intra-party ads have flown on both sides. The national trend and other factors should make this a prime Republican pickup opportunity, but whomever emerges next week, either Norton or Buck, will need to step up their game and avoid major gaffes.

Norton campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 1 D, 5 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 41 D, 28 R