DENVER | With Colorado’s primary election a day away, the anti-establishment candidates are surging, and not just on the Republican side.
After leading for most of the campaign, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet dropped into a statistical dead heat with his challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, in the days leading to the Aug. 10 primary election. A SurveyUSA poll released Aug. 1 by the Denver Post/9 News showed Mr. Romanoff ahead by a margin of 48 percent to 45 percent, with the survey’s margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.
The specter of dark-horse insurgent candidates overtaking the party favorites is nothing new for Republicans - witness Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Tennessee - but not so among Democratic voters, who have so far shown themselves content to back the safe pick.
“That theme - it’s time for the outsiders to come in, and the insiders to come out - which has been so powerful on the Republican side, has finally hit the Democratic side,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
Despite his years in the state General Assembly, Mr. Romanoff has portrayed himself as the outsider, the candidate who would rather sell his house - which he recently did - than accept PAC money. Analysts were skeptical that the tactic would succeed, given that most of this year’s anti-establishment activism has come from the “tea party” movement on the right, not the left.
But Mr. Bennet may have played it too safe. With just 18 months in the Senate under his belt, he isn’t well-known to voters and can’t credibly argue that his seniority gives him additional clout for Colorado.
“The Bennet strategy, which you could call the Rose Garden strategy, of ‘Just be a senator, don’t make any gaffes, don’t say anything controversial,’ isn’t working,” Mr. Ciruli said. “There’s simply no affection there, nothing to protect him if he slips, and he’s slipping.”
Republican Jane Norton knows a thing or two about pesky insurgent candidates. After leading the GOP Senate primary race for months, she’s now scrambling to regain ground against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. A SurveyUSA poll released Aug. 2 found Mrs. Norton trailing Mr. Buck by 50 percent to 41 percentage points, an improvement over her earlier double-digit deficit.
After fighting the “establishment” tag for months, Mrs. Norton apparently decided to embrace her status as the party favorite by appearing Saturday with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who’s become synonymous with “Washington insider” among many conservative voters.
The Buck campaign pounced by releasing a statement from Republican Sen. Jim DeMint saying that, “McCain called on Jane to run. He rallied an army of lobbyists to raise money for her. Now, at the end of a desperate campaign, Norton’s dragging Sen. McCain all the way out of her closet.”
Mrs. Norton, who was co-chairman of the McCain 2008 presidential bid in Colorado, attempted to put a little distance between herself and Mr. McCain by telling reporters that they “won’t always agree.” At the same time, she called him an “American hero” and appeared with him at a fundraiser and a rally.
Mr. McCain also taped a robocall for the Norton campaign saying that she supports the war on terrorism and that her opponent has suggested an “early withdrawal” from Afghanistan. Mr. Buck has questioned the U.S. strategy there, although he also has said that he wants a victory before pulling troops.
The attention paid to Afghanistan and other pressing national issues has been far overshadowed by the so-called “high heels” episode. Mrs. Norton released an ad accusing Mr. Buck of sexism after he told a gathering of conservatives in July that they should vote for him because “I do not wear high heels.”
The Buck campaign said he was poking fun at Mrs. Norton’s own tendency to distinguish herself from Mr. Buck by saying, “I’m a girl.” Mr. Buck also said that she had “questioned my manhood” after Mrs. Norton ran a television spot accusing him of letting a “shady interest group” attack her.