Colorado Dem primary a test of Obama's popularity 

President Obama has a large stake in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Colorado after backing a Democratic incumbent whose poll numbers are sagging and who faces a revved-up opponent endorsed by former President Clinton.

Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed to the seat in 2009, has been struggling in the polls for several months now. A poll released Monday by Public Policy showed Bennet leading former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff 49 percent to 43 percent.

Romanoff, meanwhile, appears to have benefited from a fundraising letter sent out on his behalf by Clinton, who stunned his party when he broke with Obama and announced he was backing a man who supported wife Hillary Clinton in the presidential Democratic primary race two years ago.

"That is the kind of thing that matters to Democratic primary voters," University of Denver political science professor Seth Masket said. "They look for big name endorsements on these kinds of things. The fact that you have one president going one way and another president going another is a pretty big deal in this race."

Political strategists note that Obama so far has done little to help Democratic candidates win big elections, pointing to losses in Massachusetts, where Republican Scott Brown was able to win a U.S. Senate seat long held by Democrats, and in Pennsylvania, where Obama's backing didn't stop incumbent party-switcher Arlen Specter from losing to fellow Democrat Joe Sestak.

Clinton's campaigning, on the other hand, is credited with helping Sen. Blanche Lincoln win the Arkansas Democratic primary and Democrat Mark Critz win the Pennsylvania House seat left open when Rep. John Murtha died.

"If Bennet loses, it would be a huge rebuke for Obama," Democratic strategist Doug Schoen said.

Obama, Schoen said, "has put his prestige on the line again in Colorado."

Some state Democratic Party officials disagree, and say the endorsements will do little to benefit either candidate.

"Usually people have a connection with one candidate or the other and this is what this race is about," Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Patricia Waak told The Washington Examiner. "I don't see endorsements as a major factor."

Bennet is a former political aide who was appointed by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to become the city's school superintendent in 2005. As a senator, Bennet backed the Democratic health care reform plan but did not push aggressively for a public option. Romanoff is running to the left of Bennet and has criticized him for not pushing harder for a single-payer health care system.

State Republicans are gleefully watching the two Democratic candidates battle for the vote of the state's more liberal base, saying the fight will make it easier for a GOP candidate to beat the Democratic victor in this swing state come November.

"There is no doubt that Andrew Romanoff is running farther to the left of Michael Bennet, and Bennet is running just as hard to get where Romanoff is," Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said.

Wadhams said the political views are more aligned between the two Republican Senate candidates, but the outlook is also uncertain.

According to the Public Policy poll, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton leads District Attorney Ken Buck 45 percent to 43 percent.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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