9NEWS asked our two political experts, James Mejia and Kelly Maher to weigh in on the effect of the presidential race on Colorado’s U.S. Senate race involving the GOP challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
Read James Mejia's commentary here: http://on9news.tv/1QYLMHx
RELATED: 9NEWS schedules Senate GOP debates
Hillary Clinton’s significant enthusiasm deficit could have negative ramifications for those who have hitched their wagons to her star. One of the top targeted U.S. Senate seats to flip could be the one currently held by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado). Bennet’s campaign will be closely tied to Clinton’s presidential bid, and the blowout victory Bernie Sanders experienced in Colorado on caucus night should make Team Bennet very nervous.
Sen. Bernie Sanders swept the Centennial State with 59 percent of Colorado’s caucus-going Democrats earlier this month. The Vermont senator sent a message that reverberated off the Rocky Mountains to the rest of the country: “This is a real campaign, and Hillary Clinton should not take this nomination for granted.”
Although the Democratic Party’s complex system of super-delegates makes it unlikely Sanders will ultimately prevail in his quest for the nomination, he has handily demonstrated there is not the same kind of genuine deep-seated support for Clinton there is for Sanders. Colorado’s status as a genuine toss-up, electorally quirky state - with fierce western values no campaign can take for granted - has been solidified once again.
This odd combination of circumstances could prove difficult to navigate for Sen. Bennet if Re-publicans nominate and coalesce around a single, viable alternative in short order. Although Bennet will have the distinct advantage in money raised and in name identification (Colorado voters who have actually heard of him), Sanders entered Colorado at a distinct deficit to Clinton in both those areas, and still managed to create an almost 60-40 percent blowout against Clinton at the Democratic caucuses.
Bennet was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2009 when then-Sen. Ken Salazar left his term early to serve as Secretary of Interior. He then stood for re-election in 2010 after a primary and prevailed against Republican challenger Ken Buck, but only won 48 percent of the vote to Buck’s 46.5.
If a potential Republican candidate had asked any political advisor in the state just after Bennet’s narrow re-election victory in 2010 if he or she was more likely to prevail by challenging Sen. Mark Udall in 2014 or Bennet this year, anyone would have said challenging Bennet was the better bet. A race against Udall was viewed as long shot, not just because of his dynastic political family name, but because Udall radiates Colorado out of every pore.
Republican Strategist Sean Tonner said of Udall: “Mark Udall looks like he's out of central cast-ing for Western politician — he looks like he was born with a Patagonia jacket sitting on a 14er.” Yet, Congressman Cory Gardner beat Sen. Udall in 2014, and Bennet has all of Udall’s liabilities, without his corresponding strengths.
Bennet does not read like a Coloradan. Our Senator was recently mocked by Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call for buying the Carhart barn jacket politicians “use to pretend to be normal people,” (first posted by Colorado Peak Politics). A graduate of Wesleyan University and then Yale Law, Bennet seems to have a hard time connecting with Colorado voters. He doesn’t have the “aw, shucks” likability of Gov. John Hickenlooper and polling data shows he’s less popular than the Governor. That, in combination with the fracture emerging in Colorado’s Democratic base between Sanders and Clinton supporters, could prove deadly for Bennet’s re-election chances.
Republicans know firsthand what political fissures look like when a large swath of the base feels disenfranchised by the prevailing “establishment” power structure. The ramifications of the great war of the “tea party v establishment” is still playing out in Republican presidential and primary contests across the country. Despite Sanders’s decisive win in Colorado, though, he didn’t get a majority of delegates out of the state. If there’s a faster way to disenfranchise an excited and newly-recruited caucus goer than to effectively negate all their enthusiasm with a rigged system of delegate allocations, the Democrats would be hard-pressed to find one.
For many members of his own base, Bennet will be the poster boy of the insider party power structure. Shortly after winning re-election, Bennet was tapped to serve as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) where his primary job was to raise the millions dollars into the kind of entities Sanders accuses of exerting undue influence on our political system. Although Bennet enters this race with millions in his own Senate account, the base voters he needs to be energized have overwhelmingly picked the Senator who raised his campaign funds in $20 and $30 increments and who eschews big money.
All these factors, in addition to the tough issues Bennet will have to face on Obamacare, Iran and GITMO all coupled with the fact single payer healthcare will be on Colorado’s ballot in No-vember, could spell disaster for Bennet. This, of course, is only the case if Republicans quickly and efficiently select one of the 13 people vying for the GOP nod to take on Bennet, then sup-port him or her without reservation. That is yet to be seen.
Kelly Maher provides the Republican perspective on politics for 9NEWS. She is a nationally-recognized Republican commentator and executive director for Compass Colorado, a center-right, free-market advocacy organization based in Denver. Read here full bio here: http://on9news.tv/1TJspbs