Senate candidate Norton going from ‘belle of the ball’ to ‘skunk’

Members of the national press has been watching the compelling U.S. Senate race in Colorado and, for a change, they seem to be seeing what analysts on the ground have been seeing for months. Politico this morning lumps candidate Jane Norton into a class of fading stars with Florida’s Charlie Crist, California’s Carly Fiorino, Connecticut’s Rob Simmons and Kentucky’s Trey Grayson. Politico writes that these big-name big-connections candidates coronated by the National Republican Senatorial Committee seem to be flopping with voters.

Norton started out as clear frontrunner. But in the wake of her loss at the straw poll caucus, dipping cash on hand totals, and the emergency measure she took last week– asking political pit bull Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry to act as her spokesman and attack grassroots favorite Ken Buck– she may be slipping from “belle of the ball” to “skunk,” in the phrasing set up by Politico.

A strong class of GOP recruits in marquee Senate races is in danger of being upended in contentious primary elections, thanks to the emergence of a group of formerly long-shot primary challengers who have gone from being skunks at the party to belles of the ball…

In the early stages of the election cycle, the NRSC’s ability to lock in top-tier talent like Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, former Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in California appeared to be huge wins for the party, not to mention shrewd political plays.

But now.. Crist, once considered a shoo-in for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Mel Martinez, trails badly in the polls to former state House Speaker Marco Rubio and is on the verge of abandoning the GOP to run as an independent. Simmons, Grayson and Fiorina all trail by double digits in recent primary polling. In Colorado and New Hampshire, two highly touted female contenders have also run into serious resistance.

“It’s very clear to me that all the assumptions, all the rules that governed campaigns previous to 2010 are out the window,” said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. “What I do think is happening in Colorado and other states, is that endorsements don’t mean a darn thing in 2010, whether it be political committees or elected officials.”

[…]

Wadhams notes that the mere appearance of the NRSC’s involvement in Colorado wounded GOP front-runner Jane Norton at the outset, when it appeared the committee had reserved several domain names for her campaign website. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was on the verge of pulling out of the race in August but said he was swayed by “hundreds” of e-mails and phone calls encouraging him to defy the NRSC’s wishes.

“Since then, they’ve been very uninvolved. They pulled back after that. I think committees and elected officials are going to find that they’re going to have to be much more careful about how they support candidates. The line they cannot cross is appearing to coronate a candidate. It’s a minefield to walk through,” Wadhams said.

To make matters worse, Penry’s attacks on Buck may be backfiring– and not only with voters. Penry is Senate Minority Leader, and though he has never seemed much for corralling his Senate colleagues, in attacking Buck, he has clearly alienated at least Sen. Shawn Mitchell, who facebooked a strong response to Penry’s “schoolboy taunts.” Welcome to the minefield.

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