Romanoff’s fan base comprised of Republicans as well as Democrats

By Jody Hope Strogoff

Andrew Romanoff’s candidacy announcement thrilled a lot of Democrats this week. Not all of them, for sure, as a primary doesn’t always guarantee the party the best possible nominee, and the possible intra-party squabbling can exact a toll.

But those in search of a passionionate and energetic campaigner are now a little more excited about the prospect of holding on to the Senate seat in 2010 with Romanoff in the race.

Not that Sen. Michael Bennet doesn’t have his admirers, too. No less than the president of the United States and Colorado’s other U.S. Senator are singing Bennet’s praises in their early endorsements.

And if you’re looking for energy, well, Bennet did recently tout his swing around the state whereby he visited all 64 counties. Some might call that energetic, although the lessons Bennet probably learned about the geography of the state may have been the true prize.

And of course there’s all that money that Bennet has raised. Millions and counting and still more than a year before the election. How will Andrew fare in comparison?

But at press events and numerous get togethers with constituents these last few months, Bennet’s quiet demeanor and unfamiliarity with the nuances of the political landscape make his candidacy somewhat more vacuous.

With Romanoff, on the other hand, there was real excitement on the energetic faces of his supporters in Pueblo, where the former Speaker of the House first officially declared for the U.S. Senate.

Later that afternoon, during a similar announcement and celebration at Denver’s Washington Park, Romanoff was once again surrounded by family, friends and supporters, some whom may have only known him from afar. Romanoff seemed to speak from the heart as he set out his reasons for running and goals if elected in 2010. And by the end of his speech, the crowds were engaged.

Romanoff was passionate, well-spoken, likeable and even boyishly charming with his self deprecating humor intact.

“He’s smart. He’s articulate. He knows the issues. He knows the state,” commented one well known political operative earlier this year about the Denver Democrat who was term limited in January.

The genial words could have come from any one of several dozen Democrats in Denver or the surrounding environs, but those particular comments were uttered by none other than Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams.

“I don’t want to see Andrew Romanoff in public office,” Wadhams acknowledged to The Statesman back in February. “But I have great respect for Romanoff’s political skills and the fact that he does know that this is a big state. And he knows more than just his Denver neighborhood.”

In fact, Wadhams continued, “what I admired is that he did go into these small communities around the state (to campaign for Amendment 59 in 2008) and, while I don’t particularly agree with his agenda, he went out there and he took a look for himself about these schools. That took a lot of time and energy to do that. And he did it. And, I just admire that.”

Wadhams said Gov. Ritter’s passing over of Romanoff for the open Senate seat and the appointment instead of Michael Bennet is bewildering.

“I, for the life of me, cannot understand it other than it reveals a flaw in Governor Ritter’s judgment that I think is terribly interesting. I understand why he didn’t appoint (John) Hickenlooper because he just flat-out is intimidated by him. But Romanoff, I don’t know. I just cannot figure it out. And, once again, I have great respect for Romanoff’s political abilities. He’s good. He is really good.”

(Note to Romanoff’s campaign: you may want to use Wadhams’ lovely sentiments in a campaign ad or brochure.)

Former GOP?Congressman Bob Beauprez, who up until last month was seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate himself, said in an interview six months ago that he was shocked that Bennet got Ritter’s nod.

“And that’s not saying that Michael Bennet’s not a credible guy,” Beauprez ceded. But with John Hickenlooper and Romanoff both in contention for the seat, Beauprez says he was surprised it ultimately went to newcomer Bennet.

“The only thing Andrew didn’t have is the national fundraising machine that John had. But Andrew’s a great guy — I have enormous admiration for both Andrew and John.

“In fact,” Beauprez said, “I told Andrew, had I been governor, I was very much looking forward to working with him. And I mean that sincerely.”

With former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton now in the Senate race, we expect that those kind of effusive statements about Romanoff might not come from Republicans quite as seemlessly in the future.

It is interesting to note that while so many Republicans have zeroed in on Bennet’s alleged weaknesses, Romanoff appears to have garnered so much respect from them.