Andrew Romanoff forces touts victory in caucus; Michael Bennet team spins loss as win

As the clock ticked toward midnight on Tuesday, Dean Toda, spokesman for Democratic senatorial candidate Andrew Romanoff, sounded simultaneously woozy and blissed out. "I haven't had my first drink yet," he said with a laugh as the cheers of staffers erupted in the background. "It's terrible."

There'll be plenty of time to toast later. After all, Romanoff, the former Colorado Speaker of the House, who's been all but excommunicated from the Democratic Party, won the caucus preference poll.

But Craig Hughes, spokesman for Romanoff's opponent, Senator Michael Bennet, hardly offered a concession speech a few moments later. Rather, he suggested that Bennet's second-place finish was a triumph under the circumstances. Instead of the Romanoff crew celebrating, Hughes suggested that "they should be looking at it as they should have done better than this. It was an extremely narrow margin of victory and a very favorable playing field."

Let's consider these vastly different takes one at a time, beginning with Toda's.

"I think it's been a tremendous victory," he said. "As you know, the corporate cash was all behind the other guy. He's raised a million dollars just in PAC money, and used that to fund huge phone banks of robocalls. He did everything with the money that he could do to swing the vote in his favor. And Andrew doesn't have that kind of money -- but he has Colorado Democrats, and we proved that tonight."

Regarding areas of strength, Toda maintained that "we did pretty well statewide. We were certainly strongest along the Front Range and in the biggest urban areas. But we carried Yuma County and Alamosa County and Logan County up in the northeast. We've been strong all around."

Toda described the caucus-goers who turned out in force for Romanoff as "pretty self-motivated. We tried to help them along with a series of rallies up and down the Front Range over the past few days. We've been working as hard as we can to get out our vote, and I think we were pretty successful. But the people who attended the caucus tonight tend to be the hardest-core Democrats, if you will, and they turned out to be Romanoff people."

At the same time, Toda acknowledged that the preference poll "is just a first step, and we don't expect that this means the end of the campaign. It's a long road ahead. We've got to go until August for the primary, and many things can change between now and then. But it's obvious to me as a result of tonight's caucuses that it's the Romanoff campaign that's got the momentum. We're the ones with the legs."

And, presumably, a bank account that should be growing healthier.

"Regardless of how much we sort of loathe the money part of the political process in this country, you need a certain amount to be viable," Toda said. "We have enough to be viable now, but we'll be more viable in the coming days and weeks."

And now for something completely different, here's how Bennet spokesman Hughes saw things:

"Look," he said, "there was a lot of grumbling early on after Andrew announced that they could keep Michael off the ballot, and keep him under 30 percent. So the fact that Andrew's barely over 50 percent is a real victory for us. The conversations he's had with people around the state about what they want in Washington is really paying off."

Hughes characterized the caucus-goers as relatively small in number, and he felt more of them should have been preternaturally inclined toward Romanoff's candidacy.

"We're talking about 25,000 people or less who came out tonight," he noted. "And for the better part of two decades, Andrew Romanoff has been building connections among these party activists. A lot of them have known him for years and years, and in comparison, Michael is a new commodity. So the fact that we were able to finish where we did when this was the most favorable possible playing field for Andrew Romanoff, and to almost hold him under 50 percent, is a real sign of momentum for Michael, and a sign of struggle for Romanoff's campaign. He can't be happy that he barely had a single digit victory on his home turf."

Still, Hughes stopped short of writing off the final results as entirely insignificant.

"You definitely don't dismiss this," he said. "The caucus process is important for us to go through to build our grassroots network across the state and get the organizational muscle to help us compete. And we'll be able to use that to win the primary and the general election."

In other words, each candidate is thrilled -- and they believe their rival should be swallowing a shotgun barrel. Call it politics as usual.

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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

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