Andrew Romanoff builds lead over Michael Bennet at county assemblies --

This weekend's Democratic county assemblies in 21 counties around the state, including many of the largest, didn't deal challenger Andrew Romanoff the kind of reality check for which many supporters of Senator Michael Bennet may have been hoping.

"It was a terrific weekend for us," enthuses Dean Toda, Romanoff's spokesman, and the numbers back up his statement. "We currently lead 57 percent to 41 percent -- 16 points. That's big."

But how much does it matter? On Friday, Bennet spokesman Trevor Kincaid hardly characterized the assemblies as make or break for his guy -- unlike Toda, who stressed their importance in a separate interview. Indeed, Toda continues to fight against the perception that ultimate victory in the process only means that Romanoff's name will appear above Bennet's on the August primary ballot.

"The practical result of winning at the state assembly will be to get the top line on the ballot," Toda confirms. "But I think the symbolism of the whole thing is much more powerful and resonant than just the top line. If a sitting senator's huge bankroll and a political support network that starts at the White House are not enough to get Colorado Democrats to support him, I think that doesn't bode well."

Certainly, weekend results in most locations were to Toda's liking.

"We turned El Paso County and Boulder County into our column," he points out. "We were below 50 percent last month, and this weekend, we were above 50 percent in both places. And we extended our caucus lead in Arapahoe, Jefferson, Denver, Douglas, Pueblo. We lost ground in a couple of places; I believe we lost a few points in Durango. But we didn't lose any ground in any of the really large counties."

Moreover, there aren't nearly enough opportunities for Bennet to catch up prior to the May 22 state assembly. As Toda notes, "I think there are only about 25 delegates left to be selected out of a little over 4,000 total. The results are in."

What's that mean in the grand scheme of things? Bennet's forces have argued that Romanoff, the former speaker of the Colorado house, who's been involved in state politics for a couple of decades, is merely receiving payback from party insiders he's befriended over the years. This implies that assembly attendees aren't necessarily representative of Colorado Democrats as a whole.

Toda rejects that theory.

"I would expect the folks who will vote in the primary to be more like the people who go to assemblies than unlike them," he says. "Are the leaders of this party out of touch with the rank and file? I don't think so. I'm not suggesting that I think the percentages will be exactly the same in August. But I don't know of any better way to gauge the mood of regular Democrats, Democratic primary voters, than to see what the folks who go to assemblies had to say.

"The electorate is very engaged this year," he adds. "The health-care debate, the whole Tea Party thing -- passions are aroused and interest is very high. And I think the same issues that are motivating the core of the Democratic Party are motivating to a virtually equal extent the average rank and file. They're as up to speed on what's going on in this state and in this country as the activists are, I think."

What's next for Romanoff's forces. According to Toda, "we press on toward the state assembly. These delegates are not committed yet, although I don't expect a whole lot of movement. There's also a little over 1 percent of those going to the assembly who are officially undeclared or uncommitted, and we'll work for those people. And anybody on the Bennet side who wants to come aboard, we'd be happy to have them."

No question about that.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts