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Why Michael Bennet Will Win the Colorado Senate Race

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It's been a week since the Colorado Democratic State Assembly in Broomfield. A recap for those of you who may have been vacationing under a rock: the delegate vote at the state assembly was 60% Romanoff, 40% Bennet. Team Romanoff was ecstatic. Andrew Romanoff deserves his congratulations and celebration. He had a decade of successes in the State House, and built an impressive grassroots following. No matter what happens in this Senate race, this victory was an important one. He will remain one of Colorado's adopted "hometown heroes" (he is originally from Washington, DC, and grew up in Ohio).

Romanoff is a decent, hard-working, principled man. He is extremely popular among many party leaders, particularly in the city of Denver and its neighboring areas. Countless people claim to be "good friends" with him. They relay stories about how he helped them get elected, walked with them for another candidate, made calls for them, did fundraising, etc. It is clear many Democratic party leaders owe Romanoff for past favors and genuinely love him as a friend.

Meanwhile, Team Bennet is also celebrating. But why? They know Andrew Romanoff will not win; newly appointed US Senator Michael Bennet will win his first race. Here's why:

  • The people who voted at the CO state assembly are Andrew Romanoff's base -- known leaders in their precincts and districts. Most of them have been involved in the Democratic party for more than one or two election cycles, which is why they know Andrew Romanoff well. Andrew should have secured better than 60% of his own base.
  • Michael Bennet's base is a blend of new Democrats, socially progressive independents, and decades-old party faithfuls. The new Democrats did not attend precinct caucuses in large numbers, and where they did attend, may not have been confident enough to volunteer as delegates. By and large, the same party regulars climbed the delegate ladder from precinct to state.
  • The new Democrats (the Obama generation) will be pushed by Organizing for America to do the President's bidding. In smaller numbers (but with no less enthusiasm) than in 2008, they will get the job done, as they did two years ago.
  • Team Romanoff may soon run out of money. Opening new offices requires plenty of cash. According to publicly-available financial records, Romanoff has very little money, and has vowed to turn away contributions from corporate donors who could help him. Rejecting PAC contributions reflects great principle, but is an unwise campaign strategy at this time, in this state, especially when the new Supreme Court ruling allows corporations to give unlimited amounts to campaigns in the form of advertising. Historically, Republicans benefit far greater than Democrats from corporate spending. Not taking PAC money at a time like this is akin to Romanoff saying, "Regular hockey sticks cause splinters. Your team can use them when we play in the Stanley Cup, but my team is going to use cardboard gift-wrap tubes." We must win the game first, then change the rules, and make them apply equally the next time to everyone.
  • Andrew Romanoff's campaign team lacks competent leadership. Several of his staff members are well-networked grassroots organizers who work tirelessly and are respected in their respective communities (Douglas County's Susie McMahon and Boulder County's Diana Caile, for example.). Unfortunately, those are not the people in decision-making roles. Romanoff has hired and fired almost as many staff members as people Congressman Mike Coffman purged from voter registrations in 2008.
  • Andrew has been unable to reign in some rabid supporters who make outlandish personal attacks on Michael Bennet and his supporters all over the blogosphere. Voters need only to read blogs on SquareState and Colorado Pols for a few days for plenty of examples. People who have known and respected Romanoff for a decade are disappointed he does not denounce fanatical behaviors, such as booing Michael Bennet and CO Senate President Brandon Schaffer at the Boulder County assembly. Zealots discredit Romanoff's campaign and his legacy. In stark contrast, Michael Bennet reminds supporters before every event to treat Andrew Romanoff and his supporters with respect... and voters on the fence notice.
  • Romanoff has not made the case Michael Bennet needs to be replaced. Michael Bennet has voted consistent with the Democratic party 92% of the time, and has worked hard to reach out to voters all over the state during the last fifteen months. People are becoming increasingly more familiar with, and impressed by, Senator Michael Bennet's leadership.
  • Bennet is fiscally moderate and socially progressive -- a winning combination to attract CO Independents in a general election. Independents make up roughly a third of the electorate in Colorado, and Bennet's savvy campaign manager, Craig Hughes, knows how to reach them. Ironically, Romanoff's record and reputation in the state house were more moderate, and he has been forced to run to the left of Bennet in the primary. Support from far-left radio talk show host David Sirota only helps to paint Romanoff as the radical fringe -- not a wise place to be in "Barney-purple" Colorado.
  • Romanoff, like Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper who is running for CO Governor as a Democrat, has a strong "urban" image, which works against him in suburban and rural areas of the state. Both need to either strap on a hiking backpack or some riding pants, pet some cows, and be seen in a canoe in the national and state parks more often, in this voter's opinion. Think of Colorado's most successful campaigns. What comes to mind? Bill Ritter in his fishing waders, Mark Udall out in a grassy field, Ken Salazar riding a horse with his "Air, land and water" slogan across the screen.
  • Bennet has done a great job in Washington as a new Senator, and has earned the support of the entire Colorado Congressional Delegation -- Betsy Markey, Mark Udall, Jared Polis, John Salazar, and Ed Perlmutter, as well as Governor Bill Ritter, Former Mayor Wellington Webb, Mayor John Hickenlooper and a long line of other famous CO political names. The only federal legislator in CO who has decided to stay neutral is Congresswoman Diana DeGette.
  • We've been here before. Party favorite Mike Miles won the Democratic State Assembly in 2004, and his opponent Ken Salazar went on to win in the general election. Salazar was a fresh face with smart advertising and plenty of money to pay for it, not unlike his Senate replacement, Michael Bennet.

And perhaps the strongest reason of all:

  • Andrew Romanoff jumped in the race too late. Enthusiastic post-Obama activists all over CO had already committed to supporting Michael Bennet, and Bennet amassed a huge war chest of funds by the time Andrew Romanoff decided to file as a challenger.

I remember a personal conversation outside a Bennet campaign "meet-and-greet" in Highlands Ranch in June of 2009 with a few health care activists and Bennet campaign's second-in-command, Adam Dunstone. Although it was a campaign event and not a town hall, approximately fifty tea-party activists from Colorado Springs and Douglas County showed up. Rather than turn them away, Michael Bennet invited them in, gave them the best seats in the house, and encouraged their questions. We watched in awe as, in the style of our President Barack Obama, Bennet calmly took them all on, one-by-one, convincing them of the need for health care reform, and specifically, the public option. The ones Michael Bennet didn't get to, Lt. Col. (ret) John Flerlage, candidate for Colorado's 6th Congressional district, did. Intellect, reason, and diplomacy ruled the day. The ultra-conservative, impassioned guests had been expecting a confrontation of mindless chants and inflammatory signs. Instead, they were educated. They left, confused, impressed, and humbled. It was a beautiful process to observe.

As we packed up to leave, I asked Dunstone, "There are some rumblings that Andrew Romanoff is still thinking of jumping in this race. Have you heard them?"

To which another Bennet supporter near me responded, "You saw what Michael did today. He does this all over the state. Romanoff would be crazy."

Because state Democratic party leaders declared a presumptive victory for Andrew Romanoff in the primary because of state assembly results, voters need to hear an analysis of the assembly results from another perspective. Michael Bennet will win the primary, and I believe, also the general election in 2010. Fortunately for Colorado, Senator Bennet, like Andrew Romanoff, is also a strong leader with integrity and a vision. Those who do not see that yet, do not know Senator Michael Bennet. Bennet has performed well in the US Senate and deserves an equal shot of earning Democrats' respect. He's not Andrew Romanoff, but he is a great new leader.

If Andrew Romanoff pulls a political "Hail Mary," I will be the first volunteer at his campaign office door the day after the primary election in August. It would take no leap of faith or compromise of values to support him. He is a good man, and I would be proud.

When Bennet wins, Andrew Romanoff can say he fought a noble fight, and he will always be respected by party leaders on Team Romanoff... and Team Bennet. His future is wide open, and he has learned a great deal about campaigns and fundraising. Hopefully, the next major office he chooses to run for, he jumps in at the beginning and demands from all of his staff and volunteers the same level of integrity and professionalism Colorado voters saw in him for eight years. And when he does, old and new Democrats all over the state should be there with him, cheering him on.

To my Romanoff-supporting friends -- please don't shoot the messenger.

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My opinions are my own and do not reflect any office I hold, nor any organization with which I am affiliated.