Feud between Bennet, Romanoff could damage both candidates

Compared to the acrimonious charges and counter charges by their Republican counterparts, the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate has been relatively free of personal attacks. Both Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff have run positive campaigns, free of the rancor that has kept Jane Norton and Ken Buck in the headlines.

Now a growing spat between Romanoff and Bennet threatens to become an unseemly distraction from the real issues in their race. Innuendos about the influence of PAC money on the candidates is in danger of escalating into an open brawl.

So long as there is no evidence of corruption, most Colorado voters are more concerned about jobs, the economy, wars, health insurance reform, education, Wall Street reform and other pressing issues than who has or has not taken PAC money.

From the time he entered the primary, Romanoff has claimed the distinction of being the only candidate not taking donations from corporations or PACs.

Bennet, on the other hand, has unabashedly accepted donations from both. The result is a campaign war chest that dwarfs the funds any of his competitors have raised. It has also led to charges by Romanoff that Bennet’s votes in the Senate are influenced by his corporate contributors.

In response to Romanoff’s criticism of PAC money in campaigns, Bennet ran an ad correctly stating that Romanoff took plenty of PAC and corporate donations during the 10 years he was in the Colorado Legislature.

Romanoff does not deny he took PAC money, or that he had his own PAC. “I believe I was wrong then,” he told the ABC/Washington Post “Top Line” program, “and I’m right now, and more candidates for public office should follow my lead.”

Despite this disagreement, the atmosphere remained civil and positive, focusing on subtle differences between the candidates. The Colorado Independent recently published a story saying that, both candidates have “tried to define themselves on the campaign trail, but have avoided bloodshed.”

The civil mood disappeared days later as Romanoff ran a TV ad criticizing Bennet for taking $1 million from special interests, including “big banks” and “big oil.”

The ad implies that Bennet was influenced by his PAC contributors when he voted last May to kill a bill to limit the size of “too big to fail” banks. It suggests Bennet voted to retain tax breaks for oil and gas companies because he accepted contributions from the industry.

The respected website, FactCheck.org, examined these charges and found no evidence to support them. The bill Bennet voted to kill was opposed by the president. Later Bennet voted for more sweeping financial reform in spite of opposition from the banking industry.

To explain his vote on keeping oil and gas tax breaks, Bennet cited the potential effect on the small operators who develop most of the resources in Colorado. In the present economy, he said, it is important to encourage the industry rather than cut its profits.

The conflict escalated when Bennet released his own ad to expose Romanoff’s corporate contributors during his tenure in the Colorado House. It also points out that Romanoff did not dissolve his own PAC until four months after he entered the Senate race.

While true on their face, FactCheck.org calls Romanoff’s charges that Bennet’s votes reflect PAC influence “misleading.” Bennet, on the other hand, “fails to tell the full story” of Romanoff’s involvement with PACs.

Romanoff did take contributions from corporations when he was in the Legislature, but he has not done so in this campaign as the ad might imply. His PAC was dormant for some time before he closed it.

This mud slinging and character assassi -nation can only serve to alienate voters and weaken both candidates. Bennet and Romanoff need to curtail the personal attacks unless some real impropriety can be shown.

Either Bennet or Romanoff could serve the state well in Washington, but neither serves their constituents well by going negative in the final days of a heated campaign.

Both Democrats should renounce personal attacks and leave negative campaigning to Republicans. The choice between Bennet and Romanoff may not be easy, but it should be fair if it is to unite Democrats behind a winning candidate in November.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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