Leave it to voters to prove that they have something to say about elections!
Heading into last week’s precinct caucuses, Sen. Michael Bennet had a big fund-raising lead over former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, and Jane Norton, Bill Owens’ lieutenant governor, had raised more money than her six Republican opponents combined. When the smoke cleared, Romanoff had scored a convincing first-round victory over Bennet, and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Norton had virtually tied among caucus-goers.
The caucus is the first step in a four-part process to choose party nominees. Caucus attendees choose delegates to county assemblies. County assembly delegates select state convention delegates who determine which candidates appear on primary ballots. Party nominees are chosen in the primary. To make the primary ballot through this process, candidates must receive at least 30 percent of the vote at their party’s state convention.
Each party establishes its own rules, and differences between Democrats and Republicans make the results in the Democratic caucuses more definitive than what happened with their GOP counterparts. Under Democratic rules, delegates to county assemblies are chosen as committed votes for a candidate or as uncommitted. The fact that Romanoff received support from just over half of caucus attendees and Bennet was the choice of almost 42 percent almost certainly means that both candidates will make it to the August primary.
Republican delegates are chosen without being committed to specific candidates. Because delegates’ own preferences do not necessarily reflect the caucus vote, and Republicans have contested races for governor and Congress from the 4th District, there is more uncertainty on the Republican side. However, it seems clear that Buck’s strong showing and the support he has garnered from Tea Party members should land him a spot in the primary. Colorado law also allows candidates to petition onto the ballot, so it is possible that Buck and Norton could have other primary opponents.
The people who’ve spoken in this early step of the process reflect a small but active component of each party. Each party had between 2 and 3 percent of registered voters participate in caucuses. We should expect primary voter turnout to reflect between 10 and 20 times more participants.
If Bennet and Norton stomped their opponents in the caucuses, they would have been well positioned to put away their party’s nominations. Romanoff’s and Buck’s strong showings mean that we will have primary battles and won’t know who will be the final candidates until August. Once we get to the broader primary battle, the impressive war chests that Bennet and Norton have compiled will be important tools as their fund-raising muscle can be used for television, radio and newspaper ads, direct mail and professional campaign staff. But both Romanoff and Buck can expect fund-raising boosts from their strong showings, and their grassroots supporters will be energized by their success.
Strategists for both parties believe the Colorado U.S. Senate seat is in play and our election will attract attention and campaign resources from across the country. The fact that it now appears we will have competitive primaries for both nominations will make this election even more interesting.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.