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Bennet, Romanoff face off in Dem U.S. Senate primary

Despite an endorsement last month from former President Bill Clinton for Democratic candidate and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet holds a clear lead going into the Aug.10 primary.

In the most recent Denver Post/KUSA-TV polling released earlier this month, Bennet led Romanoff by a margin of 53 to 36 percent.

However, in polling where the Democratic candidates were pitched against potential Republican challengers, the results flip, with Romanoff faring better than Bennet. A July 7 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in Colorado has Republican Ken Buck leading Romanoff 47-42 percent, while the same poll shows Buck leading Bennet with a 48-39 percent margin.

Likewise, Republican Jane Norton has a clear 47-40 percent advantage over Bennet, but only leads Romanoff 44-42 percent — a statistical tie (with a 4.5 percent margin of error).

While Bennet’s large margin against Romanoff indicates broad support among rank-and-file Democrats for Bennet (and a likely primary victory), Romanoff’s stronger showing among likely voters against Republican challengers suggests a palpable anti-incumbency sentiment among Colorado voters.

Bennet was appointed to his Senate seat in early 2009 by Gov. Bill Ritter after Sen. Ken Salazar vacated the seat to serve in President Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. Prior to taking office, Bennet had not held elected office.

Romanoff served in the Colorado Legislature from 2000-2008, having been elected three times, and served as House Speaker from 2005-2008.

The race came to national attention when Jim Messina, deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, offered Romanoff three positions in the Obama administration, in exchange for a promise not to run against Bennet.

Bennet has the support of President Obama and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

As in the Buck/Norton race, very little distinguishes the two Democratic candidates from each other and both Bennet and Romanoff are ideologically similar.

The only major difference is that Romanoff has shunned Political Action Committee (PAC) donations and has called on Bennet to do the same, calling Washington D.C. “a fixed casino” in how political campaigns are financed and the influence that comes with that money. In fact, Romanoff made refusing PAC money a cornerstone of his campaign.

However, last week it was revealed that Romanoff had been accepting money through his personal PAC, the Romanoff Leadership Fund, since September 2004.

Romanoff shut down his PAC in January of this year and said “I was wrong,” late last week, in regard to taking money from his personal PAC.

Romanoff may regret not taking PAC money since, as of late June, Bennet held a 7-to-1 fund-raising advantage.

Mail-in ballots have been sent out from the Archuleta County clerks office and must be returned by Aug. 10 to that office. Early voting in the primary is Aug. 2-6 at the county courthouse.

The deadline for changing party affiliation has passed, but registered unaffiliated voters can declare a party affiliation at the polls on Aug. 10 in order to vote in a party’s primary.

jim@pagosasun.com