Norton to bypass state Republican convention

U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton has announced a provocative plan to follow the lead of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in petitioning directly onto the ballot in November, effectively bypassing the primary process and running statewide not against GOP rivals Ken Buck and Tom Wiens but directly against Bennet. It’s a move certain to raise howls among grassroots conservative voters here who already partly perceive Norton as a prematurely coronated candidate selected for the voters by players in Washington rather than citizens on the ground in the state.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck narrowly defeated Norton in caucus voting last month despite the overwhelming cash advantage enjoyed by Norton, which she used to run expensive television ads for weeks before the voting. Today’s announcement suggests she is looking to avoid any further bruising from candidates on the right.

The release Norton sent out this morning detailing her plan brims with the kind of vague and dramatic language that has come to define her campaign and that feels ripped directly from national Republican comments and speeches attacking Democrats as enemies of freedom who have taken over the country:

“After much careful deliberation, I have decided we cannot afford to give the appointed Senator [Bennet] a two-month head start. Our freedom is under attack and that is why I need to take the fight as soon as possible to the Democrats, Michael Bennet, and Barack Obama to take back Colorado’s senate seat for the people of Colorado and help take back our government for the American people…

“So I will begin campaigning full-time for the primary today. I am blessed with a strong grassroots campaign organization in all 64 Colorado counties, and we will use that network to collect petition signatures, recruit new volunteers, expand our organization, and continue to bring our message of limited government to all corners of the state.

The Denver Post reports that State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams is taking a hard line on Norton in the wake of the news. He said he won’t allow Norton to participate in the Republican state convention next month, where tens of thousands of Colorado citizens will vote for local and statewide candidates. Norton’s delegates at the convention, who will be roughly representing the 10,000 grassroots Republicans who voted for her at the caucuses, will be left leaderless and will have a hard sell in the face of the fully participatory Buck campaign.

From the post:

“Any candidates for statewide office who forgo the caucus assembly process will not be allowed to speak,” Wadhams said. “They will not be allowed to have banners or signs or literature at the state convention. If the convention is not good enough to participate in, it’s not good enough for them to have a presence. That’s their decision.”

Wadhams said he would allow Norton to participate in the state assembly if she agrees to have her name among the other candidates for nomination. It takes at least 30 percent of the vote to make the ballot. The top vote-getter at the state assembly will get their name placed above the others on the ballot.

Norton, with her roster of big-name donors and connections to the nation’s top corporate lobbyists, has had no trouble pulling down vast sums in campaign contributions. She reported a haul of roughly $800,000 in the first quarter of 2010. Buck, who has struggled to raise cash, has yet to report his take.

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