Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and his Democratic challenger are making nice after a bruising primary as the party faces an even tougher challenge next – keeping the seat in Democratic hands.
Bennet, a rookie senator appointed to the seat last year, defeated Andrew Romanoff in Tuesday’s primary. The two shook hands on the Capitol steps Thursday, and both urged Democrats to unite to defeat the Republican nominee, Ken Buck.
Democrats can’t afford any more bickering. Republicans in Colorado outnumber Democrats, and Bennet received fewer votes Tuesday than the loser of the GOP contest, Jane Norton. And the primary race drained about $5 million from Bennet’s campaign fund, leaving him about $1.3 million for the general contest and the need to keep raising money.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine flew in for the rally to urge Democrats here to set aside hurt feelings from the bitter primary and focus on the national importance to their side of hanging on to the seat. Kaine acknowledged Democratic griping about what some consider slow progress in Washington – but he said Democrats must support their own this fall.
“We’re not where want to be yet, but the only way we’ll get there is if we put good partners in place in November,” Kaine said.
Romanoff looked slightly uncomfortable behind the senator, but he also urged his backers to rally behind Bennet.
“These goals which we share are best advanced by Michael Bennet,” Romanoff said.
Not everyone in the crowd was sold on the unity message.
John H. Kennedy carried a sign by the rally that said, “Romanoff’s TV ads called Bennet a crook, now Romanoff wants us to elect the crook.”
And another Democrat, frequent protester Robert Chase, suffered minor injuries when he tried to drown out the rally and had a megaphone shoved in his face while heckling the Democratic rally with a bullhorn.
Kaine told reporters that even if Colorado Democrats have some work to do getting folks to agree, the Republican Party here is in worse shape. Kaine attributed high Republican turnout this week to the fact that the GOP had a hot governor’s race, too, while Democrat John Hickenlooper had no opposition.
Kaine said that in a general contest, Democrats will be helped by turmoil in the state’s GOP, with longtime Republican Tom Tancredo abandoning the party to run as a third-party candidate for governor.
“I really don’t think that they’re going to be able to stitch it together,” Kaine said of the Colorado GOP.
Bennet’s not taking any chances. He swiped at Buck in his short speech, especially Buck’s calls to tweak Social Security, including raising the retirement age for younger workers.
“We should do everything in our power to protect it for future generations,” Bennet said to cheers.
Republicans have scheduled no analogous unity rally, though some conservatives in Grand Junction are working to get Buck and Norton together in September. Norton urged her supporters to back Buck in her election-night concession speech.
After the rally, Romanoff accepted hugs from Democrats wearing Bennet stickers and politely turned down a few offers for free housing. Romanoff sold his Denver home for about $250,000 to finance his campaign. Romanoff also discounted rumors that he consider a run for Denver mayor to success Hickenlooper, who was on vacation and missed the unity rally.