Undeclared U.S. Senate candidate Norton receives national nod, frustrating right bloggers

Raising ire among state conservative bloggers, the National Republican Senatorial Committee appears to have already chosen a favorite in the race to challenge U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for his seat in 2010. With as yet no clear front-runner in the primary race, the NRSC is poised to throw its considerable weight behind undeclared candidate and former Colorado Lt. Governor Jane Norton.

Complete Colorado, a roughly year-old right-leaning website mostly known as a news aggregator, reported yesterday that on August 17, NRSC New Media Director Vincent Harris registered two Norton campaign domain names: “www.nortonforsenate.com” and “www.janenortonforsenate.com.” The registrations list Harris as both the administrative and technical contact. Calls to Harris’s office at the NRSC this morning have so far gone unreturned.

Republicans see Bennet’s seat as a prime target. Although he has worked in government for years, Bennet has never run for office. He was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Bill Ritter when the Obama administration tapped Ken Salazar in December to head the Department of the Interior.

Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, has been all over the Complete Colorado report at his Mount Virtus blog, lamenting this kind of premature “candidate coronation process,” which he said has deflated conservative grassroots power and has ended in a string of GOP defeats.

The move by the NRSC all but confirms reports posted by the Colorado Independent early this week that Norton was poised to join the field of GOP candidates vying for the chance to unseat Bennet.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez this week announced he was withdrawing from the race. Republicans remaining in the ring include Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, businessman Cleve Tidwell, Crested Butte attorney Luke Korkowski and former state Sen. Tom Wiens of Castle Rock. Radio personality Dan Caplis has also flirted with running against Bennet.

Norton would be the only hopeful who has run for election statewide, albeit as the running mate of popular Republican Gov. Bill Owens when he sought his second term in 2002. Since the two left office in 2007 (after Owens ran up against term limits), Norton has been the founding executive director of the Denver Police Foundation, a charity that raises money to bolster officers and public safety in general. During Owens’ first administration, she headed the state Department of Health and Environment.

To what degree her experience as a candidate with Owens makes her the best candidate to challenge Bennet and one worthy of early “coronation” is now the subject the right-blogosphere will begin parsing in detail.

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