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Andrew Romanoff: Is the national political establishment starting to take his challenge to Michael Bennet seriously?

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Is Andrew Romanoff's Colorado senate run against Michael Bennet making an impact in the Beltway? Prominent mentions in the Washington Post serve as telling indications -- and the paper has name-checked Romanoff twice in as many days.

Yesterday, the Post's Dan Balz gave Romanoff the full-scale profile treatment via a piece entitled "In Colorado, a Former Rising Star is as Welcome as Space Junk." Today, however, columnist Chris Cillizza cautions against anointing Romanoff just yet, pointing out that he's got to remain "within financial shouting distance" of Bennet or else risk having his victory in last month's caucuses be rendered meaningless.

Not likely, responds Romanoff spokesman Dean Toda.

In Toda's opinion, Post staffer Balz is "one of the half a dozen most influential political journalists in this country. He's been around forever, and he certainly knows what's going on. So I'm pleased to have the coverage and exposure -- and I think as we advance in the election cycle, more and more national attention is being paid to the Colorado Senate race."

Has that translated to a fundraising boost?

"We're certainly hoping that it will," Toda admits -- but he can't confirm one at this point.

"I don't know what the breakdown is," he maintains. "We're just compiling our first quarter Federal Election Commission numbers now, so I don't have any specifics. But I'm told we experienced a little bump after the caucuses in March."

Romanoff will need more than a little bump to avoid eating Bennet's fiscal dust, at least according to Cillizza's digits. Here's his Romanoff paragraph:

The former speaker of the Colorado House drew some positive press when he beat appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in the state's Democratic caucuses last month. But that victory will be rendered almost meaningless if Romanoff can't stay within financial shouting distance of Bennet in advance of their primary faceoff in August. Bennet raised $1.16 million in the final quarter of 2009 to Romanoff's $337,000.

Figures are more positive in terms of the county caucuses, which are ongoing.

"There have been 28 of them so far, and there are two more tonight -- Summit County and Dolores County," Toda says. "And of the 28 so far, Andrew has improved his standing in 22 of them. His percentage of delegates is now greater than the percentage he got during the straw poll at the caucuses [he finished with 51 percent]. According to our tally, he has 53 percent of the delegates so far. Bennet has 43 percent, and undecided is 4 percent."

That doesn't mean Romanoff has won at each of these get-togethers. In some, he's cut into Bennet's lead, although he still trails. "In Larimer County, we went from being down nineteen points in the caucuses to being down only three points," Toda allows. "And in Mesa County, we were down nearly three to one in the caucuses, but we recovered almost all of that at the assembly on Saturday. Now we're down eight points there."

Bennet can certainly mount a comeback. This Saturday, the largest of the county caucuses take place. "Boulder, Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, El Paso, Pueblo -- those are the big boys," Today says. "We're a hair over a thousand delegates selected already, but nearly 2,900 will be selected on Saturday."

Predictably, Toda is optimistic about his guy's chances. The Saturday assemblies "are in larger urban and suburban counties, and those have been good places for Andrew," he notes.

In the meantime, Bennet's minions have launched a petition drive to ensure that he'll be on the August primary ballot no matter what happens. Toda sees this move as telling.

"The only possible reason he'd do such a thing is to protect himself in the event that he doesn't get 30 percent at the state assembly," he says. "And if the Bennet campaign is worried they're not going to get 30 percent, we must be doing well."

Well enough for the Washington Post to notice.

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