Seldom have we found ourselves in such an endorsement quandary. Usually, we don't have to choose between two candidates whom we know well, admire and respect for their accomplishments, personality, sincerity and potential.
Such is the case now in Colorado's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate: Michael Bennet vs. Andrew Romanoff.
It has been a fascinating race to watch since Romanoff, the former Colorado House Speaker, first decided to challenge Sen. Bennet, who was appointed in January 2009 by Gov. Bill Ritter. Bennet, of course, replaced Sen. Ken Salazar, who became Interior secretary in President Obama's administration.
Solid arguments can be made for either contender.
The case for Romanoff
We've followed the evolution of Romanoff's campaign, as the aggressive and well-seasoned political leader has used the same grassroots tactics and energy that worked for him so effectively in the Colorado Legislature. That organization produced his convincing victory in the party caucuses, and he improved that margin at the Democratic state assembly in May.
Clearly, Romanoff has connected with those voters who were and are weary of major corporate donors being essential to success in any Senate race. The reality is that he knew most of that money was going to the "incumbent," anyway. Regardless, we applaud his opportunism in not accepting donations from corporate or other PACs.
As a leader in the state Legislature, Romanoff never cowered from a battle, even if he didn't win every one. He created statewide, bipartisan coalitions, most notably for the Referendum C ballot issue in 2004 and the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program in 2008, which financed capital improvements for public schools (mostly rural but some urban, including in Colorado Springs). He showed courage and foresight in trying to make it more difficult to amend the Colorado Constitution.
Though he was from Denver, he wasn't parochial and led the charge on many issues affecting the entire state. The best example was Referendum C because if that hadn't passed, the state would have faced disastrous consequences.
Other issues that matter to us are high on his priority list: energy, meaning an all-encompassing strategy that "reduces our reliance on fossil fuels while pursuing renewables"; climate change, with Romanoff insisting "the window we have to reverse or mitigate the effects is rapidly closing ... and nothing has come from the Senate since the House passed its bill last year"; and veterans care, an area where Romanoff is convinced America has shamed itself by doing too little for those who have served in wars and also for the families of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Finally, we see real passion from Romanoff, and that's what the Democrats — indeed, all of our elected leaders — need to be effective today.
The case for Bennet
Bennet has developed into a more forceful and effective campaigner during the past six months, clearly rising to the challenge of such a determined, tenacious opponent. In fact, if Bennet does prevail on Aug. 10, as recent polling indicates, he will owe a serious, deep debt of gratitude to Romanoff for making him a better campaigner heading into the November general election.
To his credit, Bennet freely, and humbly, admitted in a recent face-to-face visit with us that Romanoff's presence has "made me a better candidate ... we're more organized, and my message is stronger."
There's no way to criticize Bennet's intellect, his sincerity or his grasp of the issues. When he argues that it's an advantage having no political past, calling Washington "a place full of people who've spent their entire lives running for office," he makes convincing points. He also has quickly figured out how to maneuver among the Senate's many self-serving egos without becoming one of them.
And though he hasn't dealt with state-level politics, his work as Denver Public Schools superintendent clearly showed that he could turn a big ship around and fix deep-rooted problems. He correctly describes that task by saying, "There's nothing more calcified than a large area school district."
Facing an opponent who knows the state better, Bennet didn't take the easy way out by relying solely on his much-bigger war chest for TV ads. He also has covered the state, traveling more than 25,000 miles, meeting people in person and connecting with them.
If Bennet does prevail, we're convinced he could become a great U.S. senator.
Andrew Romanoff, we firmly believe, is the best and right choice to endorse in this primary as the next U.S. senator from Colorado. He has shown how well he can work with the other party and the executive branch, from his years in state government.
While Bennet has worked hard to scour the state in recent months, the reality is that Romanoff has been doing exactly that for the past decade, building relationships with local party leaders and communicating with everyday people on issues that have mattered most to them — and him.
It's true that the two candidates' differences on issues are minor, and there's a plausible argument that Bennet already is in place and has learned much since January 2009. But we're not talking about the next year or six years, but possibly the next 18 years or more. Romanoff's coalition-building skills can make him a distinguished senator who will influence, and shape, the national debate that will impact both Colorado and the nation.
We realize that recent polls have indicated Bennet has a clear lead, but that doesn't convince us to assume anything, given the uncertainties of turnout and how unaffiliated voters still might become a factor.
Our decision here is not based on any negatives. It's based on all the points covered here, as well as observing both over a lengthy period. In Romanoff's case, we've watched as he has grown from an aggressive young state legislator into a polished, strong-willed, forcefully eloquent presence.
We simply can't ignore his organizational strengths, which allow him not only to work inside the system, but also to use the bully pulpit so articulately in marshaling support outside. We believe he understands how to play that inside-outside game as well as anyone we have seen.
It's true, and laudable, that Bennet has visited Colorado Springs 18 times (as of July 5) in his 18 months as senator. Yet it's also true that Romanoff was making it a point to cultivate the Springs for support on statewide issues even before he became House speaker, and when he had no constituency here.
It has been a difficult call for us, just as we think it will be difficult for many Democratic voters. We're convinced either candidate will unite the party for the general election, with no problem raising enough money to compete against the Republican nominee. But the Democrats need someone with passion to motivate people, a fighter to take on the Tea Party movement and other angry voters, someone to fight fire with fire. Not just a deep thinker, but a tirelessly aggressive campaigner.
These words from Romanoff helped us decide: "Some have said, 'Why not wait your turn?' I'm not sure what that means, and not sure I care. The nature of this situation demands people who won't wait. People who want to make a difference. These times, this moment, demand something very different. To me, this is the best chance we're ever going to get to make a difference in the lives of people who have lost nearly everything, and who have lost faith and hope in the political process."
Bottom line, we see Bennet as an excellent senator for the next six years and beyond. But we see Romanoff as potentially one of the premier senators and statesmen of this generation.
Endorsement: Andrew Romanoff.
Ken Buck or Jane Norton? That is the simple question, but there is no simple answer for voters in the Republican primary — which obviously will include some from the unaffiliated ranks, allowed to declare a party for a day and vote on Aug. 10.
We're guessing that more unaffiliated folks will favor Buck, while Norton's fate will rest on the party faithful's turnout.
After seeing them in action and following their campaigns, it's clear that neither is close to the Independent philosophically, and we doubt either one really wants our backing. It is also a difficult choice for us to recommend either candidate.
Norton, a former lieutenant governor under Gov. Bill Owens, has tried to change her spots in mid-campaign to become a born-again Tea Partier. No one is buying her inauthentic spewing of anti-government rhetoric, which is one reason the former frontrunner, with the state and national GOP establishment behind her, has plummeted in the most recent polls.
Her shallowness cannot be ignored. She harps on two or three trivial themes in criticizing her opponent and repeats them ad nauseam — for instance, she insists that she wanted to eliminate the Department of Education before Buck did. She also believes in all-out war for as long as it takes in Afghanistan.
Buck, meanwhile, clearly knows the law as Weld County district attorney since 2004, and his views are music to the Tea Partiers' ears. He wants to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as federal subsidizing of Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service. He calls Social Security "a horrible policy" and urges bombing Iran pre-emptively to take out its nuclear capability.
We'd prefer to see the strongest, clearest distinctions between the two parties' candidates going into November. But we cringe at the thought of either Buck or Norton on the national stage. Put it this way: Both of these candidates have been hoping for Sarah Palin's blessing. Based on all that, we would offer a chilly (not even lukewarm) recommendation here.
Endorsement: none. Recommendation: Buck.
From the start, this race has been Scott McInnis' to lose. Yes, Dan Maes pulled that upset at the state Republican assembly, but McInnis still has so much more firepower on his side, from his years in Congress and a huge edge in funding to having the party establishment behind him. Maes has had the Tea Party element as his base.
Whatever outside chance Maes might have had, though, surely lessened when he agreed to pay the largest fine for campaign finance violations in Colorado history, about $17,500. He paid himself more than $42,000 for mileage alone and didn't report it as a campaign expense, just one of many violations. Not ethical, and not smart if you're trying to convince people you should become the state's CEO.
We don't see much from McInnis to warrant praise, either. The plagiarism exposed this week was just the latest. He supports Arizona's intolerant, misguided immigration law, and would like to extend it to Colorado. He does not support health care reform. And he's all for letting the Army expand Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site as much as it wants, insisting it's all about adding civilian jobs to those areas. Never mind the rights of those property owners.
We inevitably return to the logic of our Senate GOP position, with one extra factor. The state's Republicans — and those in Colorado Springs know this better than anyone — need somebody who can stand up to Douglas Bruce, and McInnis seems more capable of doing that. As far back as January, McInnis was saying he supports the Bruce-authored Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. But he opposes the Bruce-inspired, revenue-killing Amendments 60 and 61 as well as Proposition 101, all on the November ballot. Maes says he backs at least two of them.
It's good for the state to have the best candidates from each party, but in this case we don't know who that is. Legislative experience favors McInnis, but the plagiarism and his immigration stance give us huge concerns, so we've decided not to offer even a hint. First, the state GOP needs to find candidates who will play by the rules.
Recommendation: Your choice.