Obama tries to rescue vulnerable Senate Dems in western swing 

DENVER -- Complaining that America has grown "numb" from "slash and burn politics," President Obama urged Democrats here to keep faith with the party and ignore the noise from Washington.

Back in full-throated campaign mode, Obama is on a two-day swing through the West trying to shore up a pair of his party's embattled Senate incumbents.

"When I get out and talk to workers in factories," Obama said, "nobody is asking who is up and who is down and what is the latest poll number; no one is asking, 'Hey, who won the media cycle today?' "

Both candidates -- Michael Bennet in Colorado and Harry Reid in Nevada -- will test the president's ability to re-elect Democrats as a ruthless anti-incumbent sentiment takes hold with voters.

Bennet, a former Denver schools superintendent who was appointed to the Senate after Obama nominated Ken Salazar to be interior secretary, is facing a tough primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff is gaining traction defining Bennet as a Washington insider who hasn't paid his dues in state politics.

A recent Rasmussen Reports survey shows Bennet particularly vulnerable when matched against former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the presumptive front-runner among three Republicans seeking the nomination. Norton led Bennet by 51 to 37 percent. Norton also performed well against Romanoff, with 45 percent to 38 percent. The Rasmussen survey also found Bennet losing to the two other Republican candidates, former state Sen. Tom Wiens and Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney.

It's unusual for an incumbent president to get involved in primary contests, but Bennet is considered a high-risk candidate among a handful of Democratic incumbents in the Senate, where Obama is in danger of losing his majority.

Bennet in recent weeks has responded to pressure from Romanoff by stepping up his own criticism of Washington.

"When you really think about it, who in the real world uses the word 'cloture' or 'filibuster'?" Bennet asked supporters at the Fillmore Auditorium. "When you get to Washington, to Wonderland, the logic can seem upside-down or inside-out or just plain wrong."

He has joined 16 other mostly Senate Democrats calling on Reid, the Senate majority leader, to try to pass a health plan including a government-run insurance program using a procedural maneuver that requires 51 votes rather than the 60 normally required. Bennet also voted for a union lawyer Obama had nominated to the National Labor Relations Board whose appointment was blocked by a bipartisan coalition.

Obama won Colorado in 2008, and his popularity among state Democrats could help Bennet. At the same time, the 39 percent disapproval rating among Coloradans for Obama's job performance in a Gallup poll last week was the worst in any state he won two years ago.

Obama may prove a political boon to Norton, who began a tough new television ad to coincide with his visit, calling on the president to "pledge to balance the budget or decline to see re-election."

After two fundraisers for Bennet in Denver, Obama was heading to Las Vegas to campaign for Reid.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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