Colorado To Vote In Gubernatorial, Senate Primaries

The big primary races in Colorado on Tuesday — for U.S. Senate and governor — have drawn a lot of attention this year. In the Senate race, insurgent candidates are making strong showings against those backed by party establishments.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

NORRIS: Colorado, Connecticut and Minnesota. In Georgia, there's also a runoff election to pick party nominees for a variety of posts, including governor. We'll have more on that race in a few minutes.

But first to the big races in Colorado for U.S. Senate and governor. They've been drawing a lot of attention. In the Senate race, that's because insurgent candidates are making strong showings against the party establishment, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Denver.

JEFF BRADY: Most Colorado counties are using mail-in ballots for tomorrow's primary, which means a lot of people already have voted. But the Republican and Democratic Senate primary races are so close that the campaigns are still out knocking on doors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

BRADY: That means negotiating pets and hoping people are home.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

BRADY: That's Democrat Andrew Romanoff's knock. He's a former state House speaker, and he's challenging the Democratic incumbent Senator Michael Bennet. Romanoff says it's been a difficult, 11-month campaign.

ANDREW ROMANOFF: I lost a lot of weight and lot of sleep, and I didn't have a lot of weight to begin with. I also sold my house so - to finance this campaign.

BRADY: In June, former President Bill Clinton endorsed Romanoff, who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential campaign. Bennet has had President Obama's backing all along. Romanoff has constantly criticized Bennet for accepting campaign contributions from political action committees. Now Bennet is hitting back with TV ads.

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Unidentified Man: So the choice is clear: So the choice is clear: Michael Bennet, an honest voice for change with real-world experience, or Andrew Romanoff, cynical politics at its worst.

BRADY: On the Republican side, the race is just as nasty. Former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton has the backing of the Republican establishment. On Sunday, she criticized her opponent, Ken Buck, who has support from Tea Party activists. Her focus was national security.

JANE NORTON: Ken Buck has veered in the direction of the isolationist, retreatist wing of our party.

BRADY: Norton was referring to Buck's position on Afghanistan. He thinks the U.S. should play a more limited role in the country's future. But in a response statement, he didn't explain that. He simply said Norton was lying.

Perhaps because the senate candidates are so close on most issues, they've resorted to less-than-illuminating rhetoric. Voters on the streets of Denver have noticed. Republican Heidi Huff rolls her eyes when asked if she saw the third-party attack ads directed at Jane Norton.

HEIDI HUFF: Yes, I did. I think that they're - I think it's just insane. What a waste of money.

BRADY: Nearby, Eric Allen doesn't belong to a party but says he leans Democratic.

ERIC ALLEN: Well, I'd say it's probably about the strangest primary election on both sides that we've had in Colorado in as long as I've lived here, which has been about 20 years.

BRADY: Unquestionably the strangest race has been the one for governor. Former Congressman and Republican frontrunner Scott McInnis got caught up in a plagiarism scandal. That prompted anti-immigration activist and former Republican Representative Tom Tancredo to jump into the race as a Constitution Party candidate.

Even the state GOP leadership admits that virtually guarantees Democrats will win the governor's race in November. And that has the Democratic candidate, current Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, in a joking mood.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think it's so unfair that I don't get to have a primary. Those other candidates are having so much more fun and are engaged at a level that - I just think it's unfair.

BRADY: As his opponents tear into each other, Hickenlooper is talking about what most people would consider the top issue this campaign season: the economy.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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