Colorado as a National Political Laboratory
The Democratic Senate Nomination
The results of the Democratic State Convention seemed astounding to some but generally were discounted by the press. Former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff won top-line designation on the Primary Election ballot with over 60% of the delegate vote. This means Romanoff will appear first on the Primary Election ballot although, historically, voters have been indifferent to how names are placed on the ballot.
At the same time, incumbent but never-elected U.S. Senator Michael Bennet came in second place and made the same ballot after receiving slightly under 40% of the delegates' votes. Can anyone recall when a sitting Senator came in second place at a State Convention?
Is History A Good Guide In Today's Political Environment?
With most political pundits looking back to the 2004 U.S. Senate Primary Election contest between then Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar and populist Mike Miles, they recall Miles running a vigorous grassroots campaign which culminated in his winning the top-line vote at the State Convention. He then went on to lose to Salazar by a wide margin in the Primary Election.
A similar outcome occurred with the Republican Senate nomination when former Congressman Bob Schaffer came in first at the Republican State Convention but was defeated by Pete Coors in the Primary Election.
As a result, most political "experts" expect the same outcome will occur in the Bennet-Romanoff race --- i.e., Bennet will handily defeat Romanoff.
Romanoff's campaign will argue the comparison fails because (a) Romanoff, unlike Miles, is a long-time stalwart of the Democratic Party and is well-known and liked by Democrats across the State, and (b) Bennet is no Salazar and does not have the extraordinary personal story or electoral history Salazar had in 2004 (which included winning two statewide contests).
How Much Does Money Really Matter?
Bennet's campaign would argue that, unlike Salazar, he already is in the office he seeks and has done a good job so there is not a good reason to replace him with another Democrat who is likely to vote almost identically. Also unlike any other candidate in Colorado history, Bennet has a warchest which dwarfs Romanoff's --- not only proving he is a prodigious fundraiser but also demonstrating he has the resources to swamp Romanoff with advertising, direct mail, and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts. With this in mind, it is understandable why so many assume Bennet will win.
In the end, the results will be a test of a number of elements. One will be the role of money in a Colorado campaign. Will Bennet's financial advantage simply overwhelm Romanoff's populist pitch as most of the pundits seem to think (and they do so to such an extreme they rarely give Romanoff any chance of winning). And what political worth does being Speaker of the House have in Colorado electoral politics?
How Big Is The Difference Between Party Activists And Primary Election Voters?
Another question which will be answered will be whether or not Romanoff can translate his first-place victories in the Precinct Caucuses, the 64 County Assemblies, and the State Convention into a victory in the Primary Election when ten times more people participate than have done so to date. A Romanoff loss will demonstrate these inside-the-Party elements simply may no longer be very important --- or even relevant.
If Romanoff wins, the pundits will walk away red-faced for having assumed his loss was assured from the moment he entered the race. If Bennet wins, their arguments will have been validated and Bennet's victory will be yet another demonstration of how Democratic activists actually may be out of touch with the sentiments of the much larger Democratic electorate. We should know the answers to these questions in just a matter of weeks.
A Second Example: The Republican Nomination for Governor
Perhaps the biggest political upset of the year to date was Evergreen businessman and political neophyte Dan Maes' razor-thin victory over former Congressman Scott McInnis at the State Republican Convention. Maes walked away with 1,741 votes (49.4%) to McInnis' 1,725 votes (48.9%). None of the major political pundits had predicted a Maes victory but simply had assumed he was likely to get the 30% needed to make the Primary Election ballot.
Maes has been seen as a fly-in-the ointment as McInnis was en route to his coronation as the Republican nominee for Governor. The 16-vote victory puts Maes on the top line of the Republican Primary Election ballot for the August 10th vote.
Like the Democratic and Republican U.S. Senate Primaries (in the case of the latter, seemingly party-anointed former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton is in a battle with Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck with former State Senator Tom Wiens bidding for the nomination as well), the Republican gubernatorial Primary will test a number of theories and may help answer some of the most interesting political questions in the United States today. Here are some of them.
Can A Total Unknown Beat A Never-Defeated Politician?
Can a virtual unknown, with no electoral record, who has never been vetted in any serious manner, win the Republican nomination for Governor against a well-known former Congressman who also served as the State Majority Leader?
Will McInnis' huge financial advantage over Maes --- better than 10 to 1 --- result in a crushing victory for McInnis? If McInnis goes on television in a big way, how will Maes counter that advantage?
Can a candidate, campaigning almost exclusively by driving to meetings and events around a huge state actually become known enough to win a Primary Election where approximately quarter of a million people are expected to vote?
Does Top-Line Do Anything Besides Attract Press Criticism?
Will Maes' top-line position on the Primary Election ballot have any effect or is a candidate's ballot position --- especially if there are four or fewer candidates competing --- meaningless today because most voters actually assume ballot positions are assigned randomly?
Now that Maes has momentum, what will the Press do to reveal the "true Dan Maes" (whatever that might be) to the public and will that help or hurt his campaign?
What Will Be The Real Impact Of The Tea Party And 9-12 Followers?
Much of Maes' support has come from the Tea Party and 9-12 groups in the State but it was evident at the Republican State Convention his appeal includes a large segment of the Republican rank-and-file who are fed up with what is happening in Washington. Will the Tea Party members and the 9-12 groups come out in force to help Maes campaign?
Will these new groups not only go to the polls but will they be able to counter what likely will be a well-orchestrated Get-Out-The-Vote effort on the part of the McInnis campaign? While the political Press rarely pays much attention to GOTV efforts, in a Primary Election in which few people vote, a targeted GOTV effort easily can be the difference between winning and losing.
And, although McInnis has been out of office for several years, his background as a frequently- and successfully-elected official may be hurting him in the field more than helping him. The Primary Election will determine whether or not this possibility is true.
Impacts Beyond Winning The Primary Election
The final questions are, "Even if McInnis wins the Primary Election, will the campaign of Dan Maes have forced him to move so far to the right that Colorado voters no longer support his candidacy?" and "Will Scott McInnis have exhausted his financial resources in a Primary contest to such an extent his opponent, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (who has no Primary Election opponent) has a significant advantage going into the short 12-week General Election campaign?"
We'll know much more in just a matter work weeks when some or even all of these questions are answered. And we'll also find out how accurate the pundits are!
Aaron Harber hosts "The Aaron Harber Show TM" seen on KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and at www.HarberTV.com. He also hosts "Colorado Election 2010 TM" seen Sundays at 8:30 pm on K3 Colorado (Channel 3) and on Mondays at 8:00 pm on COMCAST Entertainment Television and is viewable 24/7 at www.Colorado2010.com. Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com. (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber All rights reserved.