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Two parties, two futures

Between the Lines

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With the indisputable numbers projecting onto a nearby wall for everyone to see, the woman who had spearheaded Andrew Romanoff's Senate campaign in Colorado Springs raised her voice to address the grim faces that surrounded her.

This was not a happy moment for Karen Teja or the 50 or so others at SouthSide Johnny's who had to accept the fact that Sen. Michael Bennet had defeated Romanoff for the Democratic nomination. Not just barely, but convincingly, here and around the state.

But there was no anger in this room. And even though Bennet hadn't yet given his victory speech, Teja had a message to share before anyone left. She drove home the takeaway point from this Colorado primary election.

"Everyone here needs to wake up tomorrow and make a phone call," Teja said. She implored them to offer their efforts to Bennet's campaign for the November election against Ken Buck "because we have to keep this as a Democratic seat."

There wasn't a single word of dissent from this group of diehard Romanoff campaign workers, who had no idea that earlier, just an hour after the polls closed, Romanoff had called Bennet to offer congratulations and "anything I can do to help."

Meanwhile, at other gatherings and even on radio talk shows, many of the state's Republicans had to be groping in the dark, trying to figure where to turn. They already knew that, for them, Wednesday morning would be like waking up in a motel room and seeing someone they never would have wanted to jump in bed with, under any circumstances. Now they have no choice.

That's why it's a lot more enjoyable, and hopeful, to be a Colorado Democrat entering this fall than a Colorado Republican.

Think about it. For governor, the Dems have John Hickenlooper, obviously the heavy favorite even before the primary but certainly now. Meanwhile, GOP leaders are wondering if they can somehow convince lightweight Dan Maes to drop out after beating Scott McInnis, with party insiders wanting to insert somebody else (former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown and RE/MAX realty founder Dave Liniger are the hottest rumors) for the November race. That's before anyone figures the destructive potential of late-surfacing nightmare Tom Tancredo.

And the El Paso County Republican leaders, all of whom backed McInnis, with County Commissioner Sallie Clark energetically leading the way, have to be shaken by the fact that this county handed Maes his victory margin. Yes, take away El Paso, and McInnis would have won.

Then there's the Senate race. Bennet has emerged far tougher, and with a much stronger field organization, than he ever would have without the primary battle that Romanoff gave him. Yes, Bennet took the big corporate and PAC donations, which Romanoff refused. But it's a lot easier for Democrats to deal with that reality than for rank-and-file Republicans — not to mention moderates and unaffiliated voters — to rally behind Buck (or, obviously, Maes).

Buck's the guy, you'll recall, who would do away with Social Security, Medicare and Amtrak, and wants closer ties between church and state. He's the guy who hasn't shown he can give articulate answers to simple, straightforward policy questions. He also didn't have the backing of the GOP establishment, local or national, and shows no sign of reaching out to change that.

Oh, and your county Republican leaders? They were strongly united — behind Jane Norton. In fact, Norton also carried El Paso County by 53-47 percent. Now, will they, and voters around the state, hold their noses and pretend they like Buck? Can't wait to see that show of sincerity.

So, since the Republicans couldn't dispose of their own Tea Party candidates, it's up to the Democrats to get that job done.

Bennet vs. Buck still should have drama, with super-conservatives showing Buck the way. (You just know Sarah Palin will jet in soon.) Bennet will face a different kind of nasty opposition, but he won't have to worry about his own party, and he'll probably figure out a way to ride Hickenlooper's coattails, though it usually would be the other way around.

So now you know why Democrats in Colorado have to be feeling a lot more optimism today. They might all be celebrating together in November.

routon@csindy.com

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