Norton enters crowded GOP race for U.S. Senate

By Jason Kosena

Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate with an impassioned speech at the Denver Tech Center Marriot on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

And with that, the GOP Senate primary got even bigger.

GOP Jane Norton waves to supporters on Tuesday as she takes the stage. Former Gov. Bill Owens, with whom she served as Lt. Gov., follows her.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Norton is the sixth Republican to enter the race to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, joining Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, retired Denver businessman Cleve Tidwell, Crested Butte attorney Luke Korkowski and former state Sen. Tom Wiens, of Douglas County.

Wiens has not officially announced, but he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission last month.

In her carefully worded speech, Norton blasted Democrats for deficit spending and taking a heavy-handed approach to health care and the economy. She also promoted such conservative causes as strengthening the borders, opposing abortion and defining marriage only as a relationship between a man and woman.

“Over the last several months I, like so many Coloradans, have become more and more alarmed about the direction our nation is headed,” Norton said. “At every turn, Washington’s giant hand seems to be grabbing everything in sight... Washington is mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. This is wrong. Coloradans deserve better.”

Norton held three announcement events Tuesday, with appearances in Colorado Springs and her hometown of Grand Junction following her Denver event. All events were open to the public.

Before serving as former Gov. Bill Owens’ lieutenant governor during his second term, Norton was executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Before that, she served as the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan. Since leaving public office in 2006, Norton has served as the executive director of the Denver Police Foundation.

Owens, who introduced Norton Tuesday morning to a couple hundred people at the Marriott, said his former top aide would bring a sensible approach back to the United States Senate.

“When our leaders take us in a direction we don’t want to go, the American people have a way of bringing us back,” Owens said.

Jane Norton smiles at supporters during her announcement speech on Tuesday in the Denver Tech Center. Norton became the sixth Republican to enter the primary race to unseat Sen. Michael Bennet this week.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Norton’s entrance into the race hasn’t come without its share of fireworks and controversy.

Three weeks ago, word leaked to conservative blogs in Colorado that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had purchased Web site domain names for Norton. The move angered many in the base who viewed that as an attempt by Washington politicians to determine Colorado’s GOP Senate candidate before the state’s Republicans had a chance to decide.

Buck, the front-runner at the time, was rumored to be pulling out of the race after news of Norton’s announcement was leaked, then was encouraged to stay in by the GOP backlash.

Just Monday, The Denver Post reported that former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo had said Norton was neither “ready for prime time” nor the best candidate the GOP could send to the statewide electorate.

When asked after her announcement speech Tuesday to respond to Tancredo’s comments, Norton was dismissive.

“I think I know what it takes (to be a senator) and I look forward to going out there and talking about the issues,” Norton said.

When asked whether she was concerned about competing in a hotly contested primary — which have been particularly bruising affairs for Colorado Republicans in recent years — Norton stood fast.

“I say bring it on,” she said.

When reached by The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday, Frazier was polite, but reiterated his belief that he is still the best candidate for the job.

“I welcome her to the race, and I look forward to having an opportunity to move forward and continue making the case why (my) candidacy will represent Colorado best,” Frazier said.

Although cordial, the Aurora councilman acknowledged that the entrance of another Republican into a crowded primary field would complicate fundraising.

Former Gov. Bill Owens introduces Jane Norton on Tuesday. He, along with former U.S. Senators Bill Armstrong, Hank Brown, and former Rep. Bob Beauprez are co-chairs of Norton’s Senate campaign.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“Yeah, of course it will be harder,” Frazier said. “But I don’t think that supporters of Jane’s or supporters of ours are going to change their views because Jane is in the race. We just have to keep moving forward with our ideas, and if our commitments come through, we will have a good quarter.”

When contacted by The Statesman Tuesday, Buck’s campaign continued to promote him as the “grassroots” candidate.

“Welcome aboard,” Buck’s spokesman Owen Luftus said. “We are looking forward to the race and to taking back the seat from Michael Bennet and the Democrats.”

Unlike Frazier, Luftus declined to speculate on Norton’s impact on fundraising, instead reiterating that the Buck campaign is not shifting gears as it heads into the last quarter of the year.

Democrats, on the other hand, are preparing an early counterattack on Norton. Progressive blogs began labeling Norton as a lobbyist and hard right-wing conservative early in the week, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a statement attacking her for the same ties.

“Colorado voters will soon discover that Norton spent years as a lobbyist for the health care industry,” said Eric Schultz, communications director for the DSCC.

“In fact, Norton’s web of lobbyist ties (spans) much of Washington’s special interests — hardly the profile of someone who would fight for Coloradans,” Schultz continued. “Jane Norton comes from a world of sticking up for the special interests. If Republicans think she is their ticket to victory, they may have missed the memos from the past two elections. We look forward to running hard against whoever wins the Republican nomination.”

Norton has solicited a wide range of support from the old guard of the GOP including Owens, former U.S. Sens. Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez. Only two sitting Colorado lawmakers, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, attended the rally, which included many familiar faces from the Owens administration.

It was apparent the Norton campaign had passed out its talking points beforehand. When The Statesman interviewed Spence and Kerr separately after the announcement speech, their comments about Norton were almost identical.

“She is the Colorado candidate who can bring Colorado values back to the Senate, where they belong,” Spence said.

“She is the right candidate to bring Colorado values back to the Senate,” Kerr said.