Complex rules add to nominees' work

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is working all avenues of his party’s complex, multi-tiered nominating process to best position himself for the general election.

The Bennet campaign revealed earlier this month that it would petition its way onto the August primary ballot in addition to working its way through the precinct caucus and state assembly process. 

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Bennet’s primary opponent, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, said the move meant Bennet was shifting his attention away from the grass roots of the party. 

“If you’re going to be able to hold this seat in the fall, you’ve got to be able to rally the troops,” he told The Hill.

Romanoff has topped Bennet in early precinct voting in the caucus process, but Bennet has maintained a slight lead among voters in the polls.

If Bennet only did the caucus process, he would need 30 percent of the votes to get on the August primary ballot.

But because he’s opted to do both the petition and the caucus process, his campaign is in the process of gathering 1,500 signatures from registered Democrats in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Bennet will also need at least 10 percent of the vote in the Democratic Party’s state assembly on May 22.

Romanoff, who is only doing the caucus process, needs 30 percent of vote at the assembly to secure his name on the ballot. If he garners more votes than Bennet, his name will appear first.

Meanwhile, the likely Republican nominee, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, announced Tuesday she was following Bennet’s lead and would petition her way onto the GOP primary ballot. But unlike Bennet, Norton is only seeking petition signatures and isn’t going to participate in her party’s state assembly, which is also being held on May 22.

“The appointed senator’s decision to gather petitions will give him an opportunity to campaign on a broad public stage over the next six weeks, and that’s an advantage I will not cede to him,” Norton said in a statement Tuesday. “I will begin campaigning full-time for the primary today.”

Norton could have taken the dual route, which would have required her to garner 10 percent of the vote at the Republican state assembly. Her decision to focus solely on the signatures will cost her some exposure.

“Any candidate for statewide office who forgoes the caucus assembly process will not be allowed to speak,” Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams told the Denver Post Tuesday. “They will not be allowed to have banners or signs or literature at the state convention. If the convention is not good enough to participate in, it’s not good enough for them to have a presence. That’s their decision.”

Norton had battled Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck through the precinct caucus and assembly process but decided that focusing on the wider GOP electorate would better position her for the general-election campaign. 

“I will spend the next six weeks campaigning on the issues to the several hundred thousand Coloradoans who will vote in the Republican primary, not to mention thousands of other unaffiliated and Democrat voters who are sick and tired of business as usual in Washington,” Norton said.

She’s now required to gather 1,500 signatures from registered Republicans in all of Colorado’s congressional districts.

Meanwhile, Romanoff said he was able to pick up delegates to the state assembly at the county assemblies held last Saturday. “It gives our grassroots campaign a shot in the arm,” he said. “It gives our team the confidence we need to win this whole race.”

In a year when the Democratic turnout may be lower than in past cycles, Romanoff said having the support of the party’s core activists will help him hold the seat. Bennet has been trailing the GOP candidates in recent polls.

“I think we’re going to need that kind of energy in November,” Romanoff said. “We have a lot of supporters who are very eager to begin the grassroots campaign we’ll have in the fall.”

But Colorado has a long history of insurgent candidates sailing through the state’s complicated caucus process and then getting trounced in the primary, according to observers. 

Rather than his performance in the caucus process, Romanoff’s first-quarter fundraising total will be a better indication of his ability to compete in the August primary. Norton announced last week she raised more than $800,000 last quarter. Bennet announced Tuesday he raised $1.4 million in the period. Romanoff has yet to release his numbers, which are due April 15.

The decision by Norton and Bennet not to prioritize their parties’ assembly process is a testament to the relevance of the process, said Rick Ridder, a Democratic consultant whose firm is working with Bennet’s camp.

There are only about 25,000 voters who attend the caucuses and some 3,200 who go to the state conventions, Ridder said. 

“What you have is an increasing acceptance in the political community that the caucuses are a long, expensive process that are controlled by a very small percentage of the activists in the state,” he noted.


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