Colorado party activists boost outsider candidates |

Colorado party activists boost outsider candidates

Kristen Wyatt and Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, right, with his wife Helen Thorpe at his side waves after winning democratic nomination to run for governor at the Democratic Party assembly in Broomfield, Colo., on Saturday, May 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

BROOMFIELD, Colo. – The Republican front-runner to win the party’s nomination in the Colorado governor race and the state’s Democratic senator were dealt setbacks in party assemblies on Saturday.

Republicans voted to place businessman Dan Maes ahead of former congressman Scott McInnis on the August primary ballot for governor, while Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff will get top billing on the ballot over incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet after winning the most votes at the state Democratic assembly.

Both gatherings were marked by the nationwide anti-incumbent and anti-political insider mood that has led to the recent primary election defeats of longtime Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Trey Grayson, who had been backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary.

Maes, who has never held elected office, received a handful of votes more than McInnis. He criticized his own party as he addressed Republican activists.

“You keep telling the machine that this is about the people, not the politicians,” Maes said to cheers after his win was announced.

One Maes fan said she decided to back the first-time candidate after growing disillusioned with Republican insiders.

“We want a real person, not a Washington politician,” said Beverly Werner, who owns an auto body shop in suburban Aurora. “He wasn’t hand-picked by the GOP, and we like that.”

Though Bennet and McInnis earned enough support Saturday to make the Aug. 10 primary ballots, coming in second was a setback. Each holds wide fundraising advantages and has been considered the favorite in their races.

Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton also enjoys a large financial advantage over Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck in the GOP Senate race. Norton didn’t participate in Saturday’s assembly and will petition onto the primary ballot.

Romanoff, the former state House Speaker, got 60 percent of the Democratic delegate votes Saturday, while Bennet got 40 percent.

Romanoff, who also trumped Bennet in Democratic caucus primaries in March, told delegates he would support Bennet if he wins the nomination.

But he said Bennet wasn’t entitled to the seat just because he is an incumbent.

“This Senate seat doesn’t belong to him any more than it belongs to me,” Romanoff told hundreds of cheering delegates. “It belongs to the people of Colorado, it belongs to you.”

Bennet was appointed to the seat in 2009 when Ken Salazar was named Interior Secretary. He has President Barack Obama’s backing and had gathered petitions in case he failed to earn enough votes at Saturday’s assembly.

Bennet told reporters during a phone conference after the assembly that he plans to continue to collect petitions as a sign of his grassroots support.

“It allows us a real opportunity to talk to thousands of people,” he said.

Bennet, the former Denver Public Schools superintendent, said he hasn’t been tainted by the backlash against Washington because “from the very beginning, we were the complete outsider.”

The state assemblies are just one step in a what can be a long convoluted process in Colorado to get elected. Not winning top ballot billing in the state’s party assemblies doesn’t necessarily signify that a candidate’s campaign is doomed.

In 2004, Colorado Springs Schools Superintendent Mike Miles got top billing over Salazar in the Senate Democratic primary. But Salazar went on to win the primary and the general election.

Adding to the confusion, the two top parties have different systems for getting on the state ballot.

While Democrats can participate in the assemblies and get signatures at the same time, Republican candidates have to pick one process or the other. Either way, they need 1,500 signatures from each congressional district by May 27.

The only front-runner to cruise to victory Saturday was Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper. The Denver mayor had no opposition in the Democratic contest to replace Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who is not seeking re-election.

Hickenlooper accepted the Democratic nomination with a quirky speech, wearing a jacket with a zebra lapel to poke fun at a negative television ad that compares him to Ritter and calls the two men politicians of the same stripe.

The Denver mayor – who was elected largely because of his attacks on Denver’s hated parking meters – promised to be a politician of “a different stripe.”