Colorado’s political parties see caucus rebellion as process for choosing candidates begins

By Samantha Abernethy, AP
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Colo.’s political parties see caucus rebellion

DENVER — Disgruntled Colorado voters in both major parties rejected political insiders in straw poll results at caucuses around the state that exposed deep unease with candidates seen as favored by Washington party bigwigs.

Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic informal precinct meetings caucuses were just the first step for party nominations in Colorado. The nominees won’t be picked until Aug. 10 primaries, and in Colorado, caucus success sometimes bears little influence on who ultimately wins a nomination.

But few party leaders seemed surprised that rebellious sentiment pervaded both caucuses, a possible warning sign for incumbents.

Colorado Democrats snubbed Sen. Michael Bennet in precinct straw polls in favor of a former state House speaker who railed against national Democratic leadership. Andrew Romanoff defeated Bennet handliy, even though Bennet swamped him in fundraising and had the blessing of top Democrats, including President Barack Obama. The president stumped for Bennet in Denver last month.

The star power didn’t sway Colorado Democrats who said they’re disenchanted with party leaders in Congress.

“The same people still own and run Washington, no matter what party,” said 72-year-old Denver Democrat Jeanette McIntosh, who chose Romanoff.

In Republican caucuses, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton lost narrowly to Ken Buck, a northern Colorado prosecutor.

Buck trails Norton badly in fundraising but was backed by several tea party groups who have criticized Norton as a Washington-backed insider. Norton’s brother-in-law, Charlie Black, is a powerful Republican lobbyist who advised Sen. John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Buck said his showing was evidence of conservatives’ unrest with the GOP.

“Republicans want Republicans to act like Republicans. I say, ‘Game on,’” Buck said Tuesday night.

Even the front-runners seemed aware of the discontent among party faithful.

Bennet talks as if he’s not an incumbent in his first television ad, which is set to air Wednesday in Denver and Colorado Springs. He reminds voters he hasn’t been in Congress long — he was appointed last year when Ken Salazar resigned to become Interior secretary — and refers to sitting lawmakers as “them,” instead of “us.”

“I’ve been in Washington for only a year,” he says. “But it didn’t take that long to see the whole place is broken. It’s time to give them a wake-up call.”

Norton spent the evening at a caucus shaking hands with suburban Denver voters and downplaying her front-runner image.

“I don’t see myself as the front-runner,” Norton said. “I see myself as the one who represents Colorado values.”

Party members also picked favorites in the governor’s race, but that contest was less exciting on both sides.

Democrats had no race at all: No one has announced that they’ll take on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to become the party’s candidate to replace retiring Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

Republicans handed former Rep. Scott McInnis a wide victory over little-known Evergreen businessman Dan Maes. McInnis seized more than 60 percent of the caucus vote, even though Maes had courted tea party activists.

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