Sources: Romanoff planning primary challenge to Bennet for Senate seat

Democrat speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff at a Denver town hall forum. (File photo/Jason Kosena)
Democrat speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff at a Denver town hall forum. (File photo/Jason Kosena)

Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is readying a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Supporters urged Romanoff to mount a primary challenge to Gov. Bill Ritter, whose surprise appointment of Bennet left some party activists angry, the Denver Post’s Michael Riley and Christopher N. Osher report, but the 43-year-old Denver Democrat has instead decided to take on Bennet.

Romanoff has offered a campaign staff position to a “veteran Democratic strategist,” the Post reports, and plans to make an announcement next month. Romanoff’s campaign could rely on supporters — including labor groups — who “pledged to back him” if he challenged Ritter.

Labor leaders have been angry at Ritter since the governor vetoed two Democratic bills backed by unions.

“It is unclear whether the same level of enthusiasm would exist for a challenge of Bennet,” the Post reports, adding that some have cautioned Romanoff against taking on Bennet when the incumbent has already raised $2.6 million through June this year.

A Romanoff challenge to Bennet could rend Colorado Democrats. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who was elected just months before Bennet won appointment, formally endorsed Bennet earlier this summer. Freshman U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who took over Udall’s 2nd District House seat, is raising campaign money for Bennet through a fundraising committee.

The prospect of a Democratic primary caps a week of shakeups in the Colorado Senate race, rated earlier this week among the most likely to switch parties by Democratic-leaning polling guru Nate Silver.

On Monday, former congressman and failed gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez said he won’t enter the Republican primary race the same day rumors swirled that former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton planned to jump in.

By the end of the week, Norton’s entry sounded more likely as news emerged that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was already helping her campaign. Also late Friday, reports broke that the fundraising frontrunner for the GOP nod, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, plans to drop out of the race early next week.

Romanoff topped some polls and had an active group of supporters in December when Ritter was considering his pick to replace Ken Salazar, who stepped down from the Senate seat he won in 2004 to take an appointment as secretary of the Interior in the incoming Obama administration.

In January, Romanoff handed over the gavel to incoming House Speaker Terrance Carroll after giving up his statehouse seat due to term limits. He has been a “scholar in residence” at the University of Colorado at Denver School of Public Affairs since leaving the Legislature and last year earned a law degree from the University of Denver law school.

Other Republicans in the running include Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and businessman Cleve Tidwell. Crested Butte attorney Luke Korkowski and former state Sen. Tom Wiens of Castle Rock are exploring whether to join the field, and KOA radio personality Dan Caplis has flirted with the notion of running against Bennet.

The 2010 primary election is nearly a year away, on Aug. 10, but Democrats and Republicans will begin sorting out candidates at March 16 precinct caucuses and through an assembly and convention process that winds up in May.

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