As Colorado's Republicans and Democrats analyzed the results from their primary election Tuesday night, one theme linked most of the conversation: achieving more statewide unity following divisive summer races.
Can Jane Norton's GOP backers forget Ken Buck's high-heels comment? Can Democrat Andrew Romanoff's camp stomach the PAC money that Sen. Michael Bennet has taken?
Romanoff's campaign energized a base that Bennet will need to counter the outsider appeal of Buck, says political analyst Floyd Ciruli of Denver.
"I think the question for Bennet is whether or not the base of the party will have enthusiasm for him," Ciruli says, noting that party regulars, including labor, supported Romanoff. "I think it's going to be a significant challenge."
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak says her party will rally around Bennet, and notes that Romanoff is committed to helping elect his former rival. State Dems will hold a unity gathering Thursday, and Romanoff is expected to attend. El Paso County Democrats are also planning a "Come Together" event for Wednesday, Aug. 18.
Bennet's other problem will be maintaining independence from Washington, given voters' housecleaning mood. It may be impossible for him to separate himself from career politicians, considering President Barack Obama's endorsement. But when ABC-TV anchor George Stephanopoulos asked him Tuesday whether he'd like Obama to campaign for him in the next couple months, Bennet reportedly hesitated, then said, "We will have to see."
Buck isn't without his problems. He must rally the Republican establishment after what Ciruli called an "aggressive and high-level attack" by Norton's party regulars. Also, Buck doesn't have the resources Norton mustered, resources he will surely need to face a "prodigious fundraiser" like Bennet, who raked in some $7 million prior to the primary, Ciruli says.
"[Buck] is going to be out of money, and replenishing his coffers is going to be important," Ciruli adds.
At least Buck knows there's only one way to go in order to win in November: toward the middle. Waak points out the GOP candidate comes into the general election season having taken relatively extreme positions in the primary — for instance, expressing interest in doing away with Social Security. And with the most tea partiers already behind him (his recent "dumbasses" comment notwithstanding), now it's on to winning the approval of more mainstream and establishment Republicans.
According to state Rep. Bob Gardner, a former El Paso County Republican party chair, both candidates are going to be making themselves look more centrist. For one thing, Gardner says, "That's the nature of elections in November." But Colorado also has such a huge percentage of unaffiliated voters that all sides agree Buck and Bennet can't win without appealing to them.
"The biggest challenge for either candidate," Gardner says, "is to convince swing voters that they are not part of the government problem, but rather part of the people's solution."
Ciruli gives a slight advantage to the GOP, because of the anti-incumbent mood. But El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Hal Bidlack has faith that voters will rely more on memories than emotion when looking at their choices in November: "We tried it their way," he says of the Republicans, "and we had the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression."
On an election night when most Coloradans were expecting multiple cliff-hangers, only the Republican gubernatorial race delivered.
Not until nearly midnight Tuesday, after polling-place results from El Paso County finally distanced the two, did Dan Maes claim victory over former congressman Scott McInnis. Wednesday morning, with the margin slightly more than 5,000 votes out of nearly 400,000, McInnis contacted Maes to concede. McInnis then released a statement urging his supporters to embrace Maes, and adding, "I stand with him."
Polls had suggested McInnis would win, despite Maes having a slight edge at the state GOP convention in May. But Maes, a businessman from Evergreen, built grassroots support with limited money and took advantage of McInnis' missteps.
The political neophyte did make one sobering statement amid his celebration in Denver. Calling former congressman and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo the "800-pound gorilla in the room," Maes demanded that Tancredo withdraw from the race. That's highly unlikely, as Tancredo told a Denver TV station he was ready to capitalize, having seen the state Republican Party "split in half."
Rumors persisted through Tuesday that GOP leaders would put pressure on the primary winner, whether it was Maes or McInnis, to drop out, thus allowing the party to draft a new candidate to face Tancredo and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper in November. But Maes has given no inclination of being open to that.
— Ralph Routon