CO-SEN: Great News - Romanoff Likely to Primary Bennet

by: David Sirota

Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 07:15


The big political news over the weekend here in Colorado is the Denver Post story about former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) likely throwing his hat in the 2010 Democratic primary ring against appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D). If it happens, it is fantastic news for a number of reasons - and I'd say the primary would rank right up there with the Sestak-Specter race in importance for the progressive movement.

First and foremost, a strong primary against an appointed senator is a democratizing process, especially when that appointed senator is someone like Bennet who has never been elected to - or even run statewide for - public office. Right now, Colorado is represented in the U.S. Senate by a person who has received just one vote - that of Gov. Bill Ritter (D). A Democratic primary gives Democratic voters a choice in who gets the party nomination. And though the Denver Post's Mike Littwin regurgitated the tired old notion that primaries "put at risk" party control of the seat, there's not much evidence to support that cliche. I'd say that's particularly true when it comes to attempted coronations of untested candidates like Bennet - primaries, as, say, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) show, often result in a much stronger general-election nominee.

Second, and just as important, a Democratic primary will force Bennet to take more concrete positions on issues. Whether he comes down for or against progressive positions is anyone's guess - on many key issues from health care to EFCA, he has tried to take multiple positions so as to not alienate anyone. But at least a primary should force him to take positions and stick with them.

Third, Romanoff's clearest way to the nomination is to run as a progressive - something he can do, considering his fairly progressive (though certainly not perfectly progressive) record as a legislator. As the Littwin correctly notes:

The way to run against Bennet in a Democratic primary is from the left. Bennet has been mostly silent on labor- backed card-check. He voted against the "cramdown" amendment in a bankruptcy reform bill. There is skepticism about him in parts of the Latino community, if only because Ritter didn't seriously consider a Latino to replace Salazar.

It's pretty clear Bennet is a flawed candidate. He has few roots in state, has never run for any office (much less a statewide one), has weak poll numbers, has refused to take concrete positions on the most important issues, has a well-earned image as an aristocrat/D.C. insider and is being floated by out-of-state special interest cash. That's not to say he won't win a nomination fight, nor is it to say he won't get better on issues and be a great senator. We just don't know.

That's exactly why a primary from a known commodity like Romanoff is great for the progressive movement: it increases the prospect that the nominee - whichever candidate wins - is a better general-election candidate and a better progressive. And having come to know Romanoff fairly well over the last few years, I expect (though certainly can't guarantee) that if he runs he will run an earnestly progressive campaign against his opponent.  

David Sirota :: CO-SEN: Great News - Romanoff Likely to Primary Bennet
I say that not because of any personal "trust" in Romanoff and his decent progressive instincts, but because politicians tend to embrace ideological formulas that are most politically opportune. Though the Obama era of political sycophancy has convinced some to put their blind faith in the hearts/feelings/brains of individual politicians, the truism persists: Politicians tend to prioritize strategic/ideological paths that provide them the most electoral opportunity, regardless of what is in their hearts/feelings/brains. Put another way, politicians are first and foremost political animals (That was proven by the formerly conservative Democrat Gov. Howard Dean becoming the Progressive Champion Howard Dean for President* in the 2004 primary - and it continues to be proven in almost every election campaign). So when there's a big Senate campaign where a major candidate has an incentive to run as a progressive, that's good for progressives because the candidate will likely run as a progressive and therefore will both A) push the debate in a progressive direction and B) potentially give us a more progressive public official in the end (or at least one who has made his/her political future more reliant on progressive support).

To be sure, the Washington Democratic establishment is going to be screaming and whining and moaning if/when Romanoff formally announces his candidacy. The folks in D.C. continue to subscribe to the "primaries are always bad for the party" theory of politics, even as it has been debunked over and over and over again. But that's to be expected. Party bosses - whether Republican or Democratic - despise grassroots democracy. And their successful efforts to crush primaries have created many of the serious legislative obstructionism our country is being held hostage by right now. As just one of many examples, the party's success in crushing any strong Democratic primary against Max Baucus has helped create a lawmaker who feels so free of accountability to his Democratic Party base that he is happily shilling for the insurance industry by working to destroy this moment of health care opportunity.

Political movements, by contrast, should - almost as a general rule - support the concept of primaries, even against decently progressive Democrats. Primaries make lawmakers more accountable to a public that polls show is far more progressive on issues than the Washington consensus. That accountability comes from a vibrant grassroots democracy that is the most powerful tool for change we have.

We're going to be discussing the potential for a Romanoff-Bennet primary on my drive-time radio show on AM760 here in Colorado this morning between 7am-10am Colorado time (9am-12pm ET). You can stream it at www.am760.net.

* By the way, I think Dean went through a genuine conversion on the 2004 campaign to the point where I sincerely believe his current progressivism is who he now is in his heart. I have no idea if that genuine conversion happened during the 2004 campaign or afterwards - but it is absolutely true to say that Dean as governor was far more conservative than he became in the 2004 primary and remains today.  


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What's the backup plan if the primary plan doesn't get the results we need? (0.00 / 0)
Is Romanoff willing to run as an independent, or are there any strong left-wingers that could rise to the occasion should Bennet win the nomination and continue running as a right-winger?  If the incumbent is that weak, or unrepentant in being opposed to progressive policy positions, we really don't want or need him in there anyway.  I'd like to see Romanoff, if his record holds up, defeat Bennet and go on to win the general election, but we need a backup candidate from a left-wing political party in case that doesn't happen.



Agree 100% David (4.00 / 1)
The only way to really hold politicians accountable to their base in this coutnry ultimately is threaten them with the loss of their jobs. What that takes is competetive elections and that only happens with multi-party elections or primaries. We're a ways from multi-party, so we have to go primary until then.

Look at Al Gore ... (0.00 / 0)
* By the way, I think Dean went through a genuine conversion on the 2004 campaign to the point where I sincerely believe his current progressivism is who he now is in his heart. I have no idea if that genuine conversion happened during the 2004 campaign or afterwards - but it is absolutely true to say that Dean as governor was far more conservative than he became in the 2004 primary and remains today.

While his global warming thing has always been real .. over all .. he became much more of a DFH after his loss to Bush .. don't believe me? .. try reading his latest book The Assault on Reason


I remember Nader asking him in 2002.. (0.00 / 0)
How does it feel to be liberated? And he told him it felt good and wrote a kind note in Nader's book. I have a feeling he knew a lot of what Ralph was saying was exactly right.

[ Parent ]
finally (0.00 / 0)
I've been trying to figure out why it was taking so long to get a primary challenger for Bennet.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

I'm all for primaries opening up the debate.... but (0.00 / 0)
Sorry, Andrew Romanoff isn't all that far to the left. Long-time DLC actually, as are so many Colorado Dem politicians. I can't decide if he is liberal but not progressive or progressive but not liberal... Probably not a blue dog, but we've seen Ted Kennedy and Romanoff is no Ted Kennedy.

C'mon David, the Sestak vs Specter comparison is a bit overblown: We know Specter is a Republican in sheep's clothing, while Bennet is "merely" a clean slate (could be good; could be bad, we just don't know).

Bennet came from business (Anschutz Enterprises.), then ran Denver Public Schools competently and sincerely. His short tenure in politics might mean he has spent less time at the lobbyist and industry feeding trough.

I agree that Romanoff is a known quantity, but his record is moderate, not left. This is in contrast to a number of bright shining progressives in the Colorado legislature. Romanoff helped return Democrats to the trifecta in Colorado over the past 10 or so years, but he did so from a centrist and good government position. You could argue that the Republican drift to the extreme right was the real driver, and the Colorado Dems mostly just kept their heads down, and portrayed themselves as just as fiscally conservative and moderate as the Republicans.

Here is are my two big problems:

On the issue of the day: For all Romanoff's time as Majority leader, we never saw much in the way of insurance regulation, not to mention any significant health care reform. I'd say the Colorado legislature carefully does nothing to reduce the health insurance industry power.

Secondly, The big divide in Colorado Dem politics is between the party activists (strongly liberal) and the Party politician elite, who are somewhat socially liberal but are relatively anti-labor and pro-business. Furthermore, they are extremely timid in the face of right-wing republican branding. From our Democratic establishment we just never hear any full-throated populism, up-with-the-little-guy, defend-to-the-death the social safety net.

The good thing?

Romanoff is not enough to the left to really come at Bennet from that side, and because Bennet is a clean slate, a primary may help put some writing on it, but chalk is easy to erase. Such a Primary may convince Bennet to vote for Public option health care, which is a great reason for Romanoff to go ahead, but if you think about it, the public option is a relatively timid, moderate and business-friendly initiative.


Reposting (0.00 / 0)
I say that not because of any personal "trust" in Romanoff and his decent progressive instincts, but because politicians tend to embrace ideological formulas that are most politically opportune. Though the Obama era of political sycophancy has convinced some to put their blind faith in the hearts/feelings/brains of individual politicians, the truism persists: Politicians tend to prioritize strategic/ideological paths that provide them the most electoral opportunity, regardless of what is in their hearts/feelings/brains. Put another way, politicians are first and foremost political animals (That was proven by the formerly conservative Democrat Gov. Howard Dean becoming the Progressive Champion Howard Dean for President* in the 2004 primary - and it continues to be proven in almost every election campaign). So when there's a big Senate campaign where a major candidate has an incentive to run as a progressive, that's good for progressives because the candidate will likely run as a progressive and therefore will both A) push the debate in a progressive direction and B) potentially give us a more progressive public official in the end (or at least one who has made his/her political future more reliant on progressive support).

'Nuff said.


[ Parent ]
Yeah, and I agree with you for the most part that: (0.00 / 0)
a primary would sharpen the attention of the politicians, the media and the public. Even if this situation is not all that progressive, the primary probably would keep the rhetoric from moving rightward. That, and getting the right vote on the Public option, is reason enough to support the pageant.

I don't think that Romanoff is a bad guy, and Bennet may end up being a Corporate shill. Faint praise is different from shouting hooray from the roof tops and spending time or money. I'll change quickly enough if Bennet goes Blue Dog on us in actual votes. The underlying problem is that Colorado politicians believe the Colorado electorate is conservative, and they are afraid to look too progressive, viz. Mark Udall.

But, here on Open Left, and across the Progressive Netroots, I think that we should look beyond establishment, DLC politicians who grew up modestly confronting the Republican machine, in favor of more vocal progressives. I want better Dems, not more Dems, and while I don't want to throw a Dem Governor or Senator, I wouldn't mind a sacrificial Blue Dog or two in the house.


[ Parent ]
That's fair (0.00 / 0)
I think that's a fair point - that we want more and better Dems. I hold out hope that A) a Bennet-Romanoff primary would make both of them better Democrats (although maybe not full-on Better Democrats) and B) that there may be even more candidates in the primary.

[ Parent ]
Also. (0.00 / 0)
A primary would bring at least a little more excitement and visibility to the Democratic Party. In contrast to the Republicans who wallow in right-wing talking points, the discussions and debates would be civil and informative rather than destructive.

So... Yeah, Bring on the primary!


[ Parent ]
Sestak himself is a DLC King (0.00 / 0)
But the reason it's important to have him there is because the primary will force him to court progressives. We bring them to where we are no matter where they are. You know?

[ Parent ]
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