Reading the Denver Post has been a good news-bad news experience for Andrew Romanoff lately. On Sunday, the paper shared poll results showing Romanoff ahead of Senator Michael Bennet in the Democratic Senate primary race. But the paper's editorial board called an ad attacking Bennet over the top (see it below), and columnist Mike Littwin worried about how much the spot cost his soul. Your response, Mr. Romanoff?
"I didn't actually read the column, but I heard about it," Romanoff says, adding, "Mike's a friend, and I appreciate his interest in my soul. But I'm also interested in saving the soul of the Democratic Party."
The ad in question, entitled "Greed," accuses Bennet of helping Phil Anschutz loot a billion dollars, making $11 million for himself, during his time working for the billionaire. But Romanoff doesn't credit the spot with his recent surge in poll results. "The poll was largely conducted before the commercial started running," he says.
Be that as it may, "Greed" neatly fits most observers' definition of a negative ad -- the kind of spot that most reformers like Romanoff leave to political action committees rather than personally approving. (That way, they can seem like they're taking the high road.) So... does Romanoff consider the ad to be negative? And how does he describe negative campaigning?
In answering these questions, Romanoff skillfully avoids taking them head on.
"The difference between our advertising and our opponent's is the difference between fact and fiction," he says. "Every spot we put on is sourced, documented, fact-checked, researched and accurate. The opposition can't say the same. They've got an ad running now -- I saw it this morning -- claiming I support privatizing social security, and that's flat-out false. You don't have to take my word for it. You can look it up. I point to the record, which is always a good source of information. And I oppose privatizing social security.
"We're not talking about doing that. We're talking about the connection between the practices on Wall Street that got us into this mess and the hardships we're facing. And we believe if we can't change those practices and reform the way Wall Street works, we're likely to experience the same calamity again."
Romanoff repeatedly contrasts Bennet's financial security with his own more modest portfolio. He recently sold his Washington Park house and loaned much of the money he earned to his campaign, prompting MSNBC's Chris Matthews to ask if Romanoff can still be considered a Colorado resident.
This last question was supposedly a joke, and Romanoff certainly took it that way. But after talking about how this decision made his dog nervous, he gets more serious.
"I would not have taken that step if I didn't believe we were going to win," he says. "And the reason I did it is pretty plain: buying TV time and putting up nine field offices around the state is expensive. I wish it weren't -- and that's the broader lesson here. You shouldn't have to sell your house to run for the Senate, and when I get to the Senate, I will work as hard as I can to reform our campaign finance system so that Americans of modest means can compete for public office without taking such drastic measures.
"My opponent says people should vote for him because of the experience he has making millions of dollars for a billionaire named Phil Anschutz. This isn't a secret. It's a point of pride -- and my opponent's free to make millions of dollars, and to make even more for Mr. Anschutz. That's his call.
"But, in all candor, I didn't appreciate this problem as much until I ran for this job. I ran for the state house four times and got elected four times -- but I did it by knocking on doors every night and weekend and introducing myself to my neighbors. And I think the composition of Congress would change dramatically if we reduced the unholy influence of money on politics and restored the role of the people as a legitimate source of power in democracy.
"I can't underline that enough: It's obscene and grotesque what we've done to our political system, and you can trace its effects. We may not be able to identify every dollar and the way they link up with every decision. But the insurance industry and the drug companies and the Wall Street banks and the oil companies, all these groups, they wouldn't spend millions on congressional campaigns for nothing. The system won't change if nobody changes it, and there's no reason for members of Congress to alter the rules that got them there. It's against their interest."
Although Romanoff is ahead in the most recent poll, his lead falls within the margin of error. But while he's taking nothing for granted, he doesn't engage in false modesty.
"We sent out an e-mail that says what everybody says: 'The only poll that counts is the one on election day,'" he points out. "And if this was the only evidence of our momentum, I'd be more skeptical. But everything I see around the state shows us to be gaining ground and likely to win next week."
Still, he encourages people who are not already affiliated as Democrats to sign up before August 10 in order to participate in the primary vote (click on this page of Romanoff's website to do so). "It's a little-known provision in Colorado law," he says. "And if you want to shed the affiliation the next day, you can."
He also goads Bennet for agreeing to participate in only a relative handful of debates. He points out that he'll be debating an empty chair in Pueblo later this week.
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"When you debate an empty chair, you're very likely to win, unless you're a really bad debater," he admits. "But I've been practicing, and I'm holding my own for now."
In more ways than one. Page down to see Romanoff's controversial ad attacking Bennet: