Democrats came off in Tuesday night's primaries as the staid party, not overly eager to rebel against the establishment. Republicans, meanwhile, continued their propensity to take flyers.
In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet struck a blow for establishment candidates on the line this year by surviving a stiff Democratic primary challenge from former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ran unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. And in Connecticut, attorney general Richard Blumenthal ran unopposed for the Democratic Senate nomination.
But on the Republican side, Tea Party candidate Ken Buck zoomed past former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton to win the GOP Senate nomination in Colorado. Businessman Dan Maes, another Tea Pary favorite, narrowly defeated former congressman Scott McInnis to be the GOP's nominee for Colorado governor. In Connecticut, wrestling magnate Linda McMahon cruised to the GOP Senate nomination.
In the closely watched Colorado Senate race, Romanoff, who has been active in politics for nearly 20 years, positioned himself as an insurgent and challenged Bennet from the left. He appealed to the liberal netroots and local party activists, thumbed his nose at the White House and the Democratic National Committee, and sold his own home to help finance his campaign.
Gov. Bill Ritter named Bennet to the Senate seat that opened up when Sen. Ken Salazar joined President Barack Obama's cabinet as Interior secretary. Bennet, a former financier and Denver schools superintendent, not only overcame Romanoff's determined challenge, he prevailed despite a recent front-page New York Times story that questioned a major financial decision that Bennet made regarding the Denver Public Schools pension fund
Bennet's victory was also a proxy win for Obama, whose picks have not always fared so well since he's been president. Bennet was an early Obama supporter in the 2008 presidential race. Former president Bill Clinton backed Romanoff, who had been in Hillary Clinton's corner in 2008.
Buck, the Weld County district attorney, rode outsider sentiment and Tea Party energy to his victory over Norton. Norton was not helped by her many Washington ties
, which included fundraising help from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
By contrast, Buck's most visible ally in Washington was Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina firebrand who is backing high-profile, Tea Party-favored candidates across the country. Buck created a potentially damaging moment when, asked at a conservative gathering why people should vote for him, replied: "Because I do not wear high heels
." The remark went viral and Norton used it to go on the attack, but was unable to blunt Buck's momentum.
More Elections Coverage:
- Linda McMahon's Primary Win Sets Up a Money-Talks Senate Race
- Ken Buck, GOP Senate Nominee, Rocks the Colorado Tea Party
- Georgia GOP Runoff for Governor Too Close to Call; Recount Possible
- Minnesota Democrats Pick Former Sen. Mark Dayton as Governor Candidate
- Politics Daily: Full 2010 Elections Coverage
The Colorado GOP gubernatorial race featured a disquieting pair of alternatives. McInnis was tarred by a plagiarism scandal and repaid $300,000 to a foundation for having submitted material he lifted from an academic. Maes was the subject of a campaign finance complaint and ended up paying a $17,500 fine for violations. He also raised eyebrows when he said efforts to promote bicycle riding
in Denver are part of a United Nations plan aimed at taking away personal freedoms.
Maes will now face Hickenlooper and former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo decided to run as a third-party candidate after McInnis and Maes rejected his demands that they step down if they won and let the party pick a replacement.
In Connecticut, McMahon, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, spent $22 million of her own money to win the GOP Senate nomination. She and her family have appeared in some of WWE's off-color fictional melodramas, a fact that's already coming up in Democratic talking points. But that didn't sway many Republicans to play it safe with former congressman Rob Simmons, who waged an off-again, on-again race that never gained traction.
In Connecticut's Democratic gubernatorial primary, telecommunications executive Ned Lamont lost to former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy despite spending $9 million of his own money. It was his second statewide defeat. In 2006 he created a stir by mobilizing the liberal netroots and beating Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, only to fall to Lieberman's independent candidacy in the general election. Former diplomat Tom Foley won the Republican nomination for governor.
Former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel conceded Wednesday to former Rep. Nathan Deal in the state's near-deadlocked Republican gubernatorial runoff. Like the Democratic Senate contest in Colorado, the race had turned into a proxy fight among national VIPs – in this case three Republicans who may run for president in 2012. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented a Georgia district, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Georgia presidential primary, backed Deal. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorsedHandel as one of her "mama grizzlies," her name for the female candidates she is throwing her weight behind this year. The endorsement fueled a Handel surge and made her a contender.
In the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Minnesota, department store heir and former senator Mark Dayton narrowly defeated former state House speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Dayton spent more than $3.3 million on the race. Kelliher was endorsed by the party, the Minneapolis StarTribune and the fundraising group EMILY's List, which called her "a gifted leader on the rise." Dayton will face Republican Tom Emmer, a Minnesota state House member favored by the Tea Party.