Party upsets in store in fall for Colorado?

DENVER — Last week’s election of a Republican in the Democrat-dominated state of Massachusetts could be mirrored in Colorado this fall if the Democratic party isn’t careful, people from both major parties say.

But how Democrats can avoid such a fate or Republicans can make it happen is a matter of opinion.

Andrew Romanoff, the former House speaker and underdog candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, said that stunning outcome will occur around the nation if the party doesn’t choose better candidates.

It surprises no one, however, when he says the party can avoid it by nominating people like him.

“Folks have a real sense of urgency in their own lives, which is not matched in Washington,” said Romanoff, who was passed over for an appointment to that post by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who instead named a political unknown, Michael Bennet, to the job.

“There’s a very wide chasm between the chatter in D.C. and the challenges back home,” Romanoff said. “It’s not enough to change political parties; you have to shake up the system. Straight talk is in, and back-room deals are out.”

Longtime political observer John Straayer agreed, but quickly added Romanoff isn’t necessarily going to benefit from it.

The Republican Party’s frontrunner, Grand Junction native Jane Norton, is just as viable and just as much an outsider as the former speaker, he said.

That’s because GOP gains, such as the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and last year’s gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey, have helped embolden conservative voters, the Colorado State University political science professor said.

“It will probably energize the activist Republicans, and that may help raise money, produce a few better candidates and a little more volunteer time,” Straayer said. “If you think your team’s winning, you get a little more excited, and you show up for the game. If you think it’s going to happen, it can. Tangible consequence.”

That thought certainly has occurred to Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

Wadhams said the recent GOP gains are all about an anti-incumbent sentiment, and it definitely will reach Colorado. He said that sentiment is somewhat ironic, because it’s also a main reason why Democrats have been winning races in recent years.

The Democrats had Republican President George Bush to campaign against in 2006 and 2008. This year, the Republicans have Congress and President Barack Obama.

“The voters in Massachusetts knew what they were doing, they were voting on the issues,” Wadhams said.

“If the most liberal state in the nation has problems with the Obama agenda, this is going to spread nationwide. Democrats are in a weak position for what they’ve been doing for the past year.”

But Wadhams said that’s not going to be enough for the party to win votes in Colorado. Candidates here are going to have to get far more specific about what they would do to fix what’s wrong with the country.

“We have to be aggressive with our own agendas as well and be more than just not Democrats,” he said.

The current speaker of the Colorado House, Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said it’s a question of complacency.

He said the party took advantage of a similar complacency among Republicans in 2004, which helped them win a majority in the Legislature for the first time in 40 years.

Holding on to that will depend on Democrats not taking anything for granted themselves, making sure they persuade voters they’ve done a good job, and not getting lumped in with the Washington, D.C., crowd.

“At the end of the day, the people in Colorado will realize that the Democrats should continue in the majority,” he said.

“We have a strong record on jobs, the economy and being fiscally responsible. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, they really haven’t provided any thought or ideas that demonstrate they have a plan for turning the state around.”


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