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Michael Bennet: Can he stop Andrew Romanoff's momentum at tomorrow's county assemblies?

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Tomorrow, Democratic assemblies will be held in 21 counties, including many of the state's largest -- Denver, Jefferson, Boulder, Arapahoe, Douglas -- to choose delegates in advance of primaries this August.

These gatherings will be a big test for Senator Michael Bennet, who was bested by rival Andrew Romanoff in last month's caucuses. Since then, however, he's spent big money -- the kind Romanoff doesn't have -- on TV commercials that seem to be helping his cause. Results from a Rasmussen Reports survey released yesterday show Bennet inching closer to Republican frontrunner Jane Norton, and doing better head-to-head against her than Romanoff.

So how big is tomorrow for Bennet? If he can manage to slow Romanoff's apparent momentum, very -- although his spokesman, Trevor Kincaid, does his best to downplay it.

"We think the entire caucus process, from beginning to end, is important," Kincaid says. "Through the caucus process, we've had the chance to talk to thousands of voters and committed activists, and that's invaluable.

"We're really happy how we're doing right now," he adds. "We're beating our internal expectations. With only two months, really, of grassroots field experience for a new candidate, we're keeping pace with a political insider with two decades of experience, and I think that really speaks volumes about Michael's ability to resonate with voters and the caucus-goers."

The allusion above to Romanoff's years as a legislator is part of an attempt to cast Bennet as both an outsider and an underdog -- a strategy Romanoff's forces deride, particularly in light of Bennet's enormous fundraising advantage. Not that Kincaid describes it that way. Indeed, he argues that the perception that Bennet is being wholly bankrolled by powers in the Democratic Party establishment is off-base.

"The money we've raised has come from, I think, somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 donors," he notes. "And many of them are small donors, giving five dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars. Some are giving more, but we've built an e-mail list literally starting from zero over the past year, and we've got upwards of 125,000 names on it now. These are people we can send an e-mail to and they give what they can. They're that committed to what Michael is doing -- committed to Michael solving problems and not playing politics. And we're grateful for that."

Presumably, Bennet's campaign staffers are less thankful for some of the other numbers in the Rasmussen Reports survey -- particularly the ones pertaining to the health-care bill with which Bennet is so closely identified. According to the data, 55 percent of respondents oppose the health-care plan as being bad for the country, versus 37 percent who like it. Moreover, 57 percent want the whole package to be repealed, with nearly half of them strongly favoring such action.

Those figures, if they hold, give the Republicans an imposing base from which to operate. But Kincaid already detects a shift in his guy's direction.

"I think the more people find out all the great things in the bill -- once women find out they won't have to pay more than they should, once seniors find out that prescription drugs will be cheaper, once mothers and fathers learn that their sick children can now get health care -- the more it's going to gain in popularity," he argues. "And it's unfortunate that Jane Norton's position has been to repeal all these great things.

"There's been a lot of fear-mongering on this issue, and once people see that for what it is, the curtain will come down on the lies and people will be glad they don't have to deal with the discrimination and the price fixing of the insurance companies."

If that's not the case, Bennet will face an uphill struggle to retain the office to which he was appointed by Governor Bill Ritter. But he's got more immediate concerns -- and we'll know whether they're relatively minor or increasingly grave after Saturday's assemblies.

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