Andrew Romanoff's confirmation that the White House floated three jobs past him after he announced his intention to challenge Senator Michael Bennet in the 2010 Democratic primary isn't his favorite subject, and he admits that he tried to avoid talking about it for as long as possible.
"I declined to comment on this issue because I didn't want to politicize it," he says. "I still don't."
But it happened anyway. Here's how Romanoff's dealing with it.
After Pennyslvania's Joe Sestak revealed that the Obama administration had tried using a job offer to dissuade him from challenging sitting Senator Arlen Specter (whom he easily bested), the local press began hammering on Romanoff to spill about a similar proposition referenced in a September 2009 Denver Post article.
At first, he remained mum, opening himself up to criticism from Post columnist Mike Littwin, who roasted Romanoff spokesman Roy Teicher in a May 30 piece for refusing to say why he wasn't saying anything.
Why did Romanoff ditch the silent treatment the following Wednesday afternoon, when he released a statement about the issue, complete with an e-mail from White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina sketching out three federal positions that might be of interest to him?
"It became apparent over the last several days that a great deal of misinformation was filling the void that served no useful purpose," Romanoff says. "It certainly didn't serve the public interest. That's why I decided to release a statement and state the facts, which were confirmed by the White House the next day."
Granted, the Obama administration had a slightly different point of emphasis, stressing that Romanoff had visited a federal jobs website in late 2008, ten months before Messina reached out.
In Romanoff's view, nothing in either his statement or the White House's was contradictory. But the national media quickly seized on the story, with Obama administration critics going so far as to suggest that the job offers constituted bribery, and a potentially impeachable offense. Predictably, pundits on the left scoffed at this notion: Gawker argued that the move, while a little "shady," wasn't nearly as interesting a potential scandal as, say, "an ACORN plot to murder the Jonas Brothers."
For his part, Romanoff resists characterizing the proposition one way or the other. "This is not a conversation that plays any part in our campaign or its message or the lives of the people I hope to represent," he says. "I recognize other folks may spin things one way or the other. But my interest is in addressing the bread-and-butter concerns of ordinary Coloradans, which I believe have been shortchanged by the U.S. Senate."
As this remark makes clear, Romanoff would prefer to be jawing about other things. Yet he was apologetic when told that spokesman Teicher didn't respond to multiple interview requests from Westword for somewhere in the range of ten hours yesterday. (Campaign manager Bill Romjue never returned calls.)
"We've answered every media request we've gotten," he maintains, "even though this is not the focus of our campaign, and plays no part in our message.
"I'm calling you on my way from Colorado Springs to Pueblo. I'm conducting the first week of a ten-week-long, hundred-city tour across the state. And most of the folks I talk to are more interested in what I'm going to do to strengthen the economy, hold down the cost of health care, reform the way campaigns are financed so we no longer engage in this unholy pay-to-play system. Those are the priorities folks share with me on the trail. Most people are more interested in their own job security than mine, and that's appropriate."
As for the suggestion that Romanoff is now downplaying the job offers because he doesn't want to alienate the Democratic power structure in the event that he bests Bennet in the primary, "I think that attributes a great deal more calculation to our campaign than it should," he says.
"I'm proud of the leadership I offered in the state legislature, I'm proud to have helped to build a Democratic majority twice, and I'm proud to have advanced a series of progressive causes. And I support the president, I respect the president. I campaigned for then-Senator Obama, and I look forward to working with President Obama next year. But this decision rests with the people of Colorado, and it should."
In the meantime, plenty of politicos still don't believe Romanoff can defeat the much-better-financed Bennet, despite his impressive performances at the state caucuses and the recent Democratic assembly. Note that Republican Jane Norton, who's facing her own challenge from rival Ken Buck, responded to Romanoff's jobs revelations by going after Bennet.
To that, Romanoff says, "Jane Norton, whom I know, is not going to be voting in the Democratic primary. Most of the polling shows I could beat either Jane Norton or Ken Buck, and that's what I intend to do after I win the primary -- and that remains my aim.
"I recognize that this may well continue to be a subject of interest on the part of some," he adds. "But my interest is the U.S. Senate race."
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