Obama boosts Bennet bid, nets big bucks

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A year and a day after his last visit to Denver, President Barack Obama returned to the town where he accepted his party’s nomination to rally support for Sen. Michael Bennet, who faces a primary election challenge from former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

President Barack Obama waves to supporters at the Fillmore Auditorium on Thursday while Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, watches. Obama was in Denver to attend fundraising events for Bennet.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“Michael is running in a very tough environment,” Obama told a crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium on Denver’s Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon. “But he’s got one very powerful advantage — He’s got you. He’s been fighting for each and every one of you in Washington. He needs you to fight for him now.”

Calling Bennet “an agent of change,” Obama lauded the former Denver Public Schools superintendent’s record in the Senate since Bennet was appointed to fill Ken Salazar’s seat last January.

It was Obama’s third visit to Colorado since he was inaugurated last year. In August, Obama held a town hall on health care reform in Grand Junction. This time last year, Obama signed the massive stimulus bill in a ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

A festive crowd estimated at 2,700 paid at least $25 each to squeeze into the Fillmore to hear Obama and boost Bennet’s bid for election. Another 400 donors paid as much as $15,000 to rub shoulders with Obama at a Bennet fundraiser in the downtown Sheraton.

President Barack Obama shakes hands and signs autographs for supporters before leaving the Fillmore on Thursday for another fundraiser in downtown Denver.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Between the two fundraisers, the Bennet campaign raised as much as $700,000 in a single day, according to campaign manager Craig Hughes. That’s more than Romanoff raised all last year and more than the Republican frontrunner, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, had in the bank at the end of 2009. Bennet reported raising $4,748,673 through Dec. 31, one of the highest fundraising totals for a non election year by any Colorado candidate in memory.

Appearing before Obama spoke, Bennet announced new legislation he plans to introduce to freeze congressional pay until the economy recovers and block members of Congress from receiving taxpayer-funded health insurance until lawmakers pass health care reform.

“If Congress can’t get its act together on health care,” Bennet thundered from the stage, “then the American people shouldn’t subsidize their benefits.”

POTUS pool reports provide political punch

The massive White House press corps can’t follow the president everywhere he goes, so, by tradition, a reporter and a photographer accompany the commander in chief when he’s out of the public eye. When the president is traveling, a member of the national press and a member of the local press will tag along. The pool reporter writes up notes on what happens — often quite routine, but you never know when the president might sprain an ankle or confuse Arnold Schwarzeneger with Bill Ritter — and distributes the pool report to all interested press. Here are the pool reports filed on President Obama’s quick visit to Denver on Thursday, written by Washington Post White House correspondent Michael Shear. The reports cover from Air Force One’s arrival to the presidential motorcade’s return to Buckley Air Force Base. There’s also a report from Denver Post reporter Jennifer Brown, who accompanied the president to a pricey fundraiser for Sen. Michael Bennet at the downtown Sheraton.

POTUS (President of the United States) worked a very small rope line at the airport, shaking hands with about two dozen or so people who had gathered to watch his arrival.

At the bottom of the AF1 stairs, POTUS was greeted by the following:

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper Colonel Clinton Crosier, Commander of the 460th Space Wing, Buckley Air Force Base
— Michael Shear, Washington Post

POTUS has arrived at the Fillmore Auditorium, where POTUS is scheduled to give remarks at the first of two fundraisers. Motorcade arrived at 3:29 pm Mountain time (5:39 EST). We are awaiting his remarks.
— Michael Shear, Washington Post

POTUS arrived at the Sheraton Hotel at 4:30 mountain time (6:30 EST) after a short and uneventful motorcade from the first event. The first remarks were open press, but here’s one piece of information your pooler was given by the White House — they said the Bennet campaign pegged the crowd size at 2,700.

According to Bennet campaign manager Craig Hughes, the day’s events are expected to have raised between $650,000 and $700,000.

Stand by for remarks from this second fundraiser.
— Michael Shear, Washington Post

POTUS has delivered remarks at the Sheraton fundraiser. Look for transcript later, and I will give a full report, but may not get it out until after we land in Vegas. Be assured there was no news made, the remarks were very much like the ones he gave at the other fundraiser. One moment of note was when he introduced the governor of “California,” Bill Ritter, and quickly realized his mistake. “East coast time — its past my dinner,” he said, laughing.

We are now (at 5:30 pm mountain time, 7:30 eastern) in the motorcade (in the snow) heading back toward the air force base on our way to Vegas!!! There, he will do a very very small fundraising dinner which is totally closed press. We are told we will be waiting in the driveway. So don’t expect much other than arrival and departure, and pretty late, too. It’s been great serving as your pooler today.
— Michael D. Shear, Washington Post

Obama arrived at the Sheraton about 5 p.m. and spoke for about 15 minutes after being introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet, who sat on a stool behind Obama on the stage.
About 400 people, including several children in fancy dresses and suits, mingled in the ballroom for about two hours before Obama’s motorcade arrived. The fund-raiser was $1,000 per person and those who wanted a photo with the president in a private room paid $15,000.
Guests drank cocktails and wine and ate appetizers while waiting for the president and senator to arrive.
Obama told the crowd it was “good to be back in Denver” and “good to be campaigning for one of the finest young senators we have.” He introduced Sen. Udall and then the “governor of California.” After shouts from the audience, Obama corrected himself and introduced Bill Ritter. Then he said. “East Coast time. It’s past my dinner,” laughing.
— Jennifer Brown, Denver Post

The plan is similar to one Bennet’s primary opponent unveiled at a candidates debate Tuesday. Romanoff vowed he would refuse “taxpayer funded health insurance” until a health care bill was enacted. He credited Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown with coming up with the notion.

Not everyone was happy to have Obama pass through town.

A few groups of protesters — some asking Obama to forbid DEA agents from raiding medical marijuana facilities, some angry Obama is taking sides in the Democratic primary, and some just angry — waved signs and shouted across the street from the Fillmore before Obama arrived. But once it started to snow, and the chill afternoon turned frigid, most of the protesters rolled up their banners and scattered.

Unaffected by the weather, Republican Senate candidate Norton blanketed the airwaves and the Internet with an advertising “blitz” blasting Obama for his administration’s deficit spending. In a television ad filmed in Jefferson County, Norton looks at the camera and throws out the welcome mat for Obama: “Mr. President, you should pledge to balance the budget or else decline to seek re-election,” Norton says. “That’d be change we could believe in.”

The 30-second ad was scheduled to run on radio and TV stations statewide through Thursday, a Norton campaign spokesman said. If the response was good, her spokesman said, the ad could run longer.

Former state Sen. Polly Baca, D- Thornton, a Romanoff backer, joined other former Democratic Party officials on Tuesday at a news conference on the sidewalk in front of state Democratic headquarters. The former national committeewoman and DNC vice chair told Obama to stay out of the Senate primary.

“It is inappropriate and unheard of in my lifetime for a sitting president to interfere in local Democratic Party primaries,” Baca said. “I respectfully request that the President” and other Democratic Party groups “cease theiractions re the Colorado primary for the United States Senate.”

Julia Ann Hicks, past vice chair of the state party and an early Obama supporter, made it clear she was concerned about the precedent.

“We support President Obama and we fought to get him nominated here in Colorado, but he should stay out of our primary process,” she said. “We are not children, and we don’t need the national party, or the leader of our party, telling us how to vote.”

Jennie Peek-Dunstone, the state party’s executive director, said President Bill Clinton got involved in some primaries during the 1990s. She also pointed out that Democratic Party rules forbid party officials from taking sides in primaries, but not elected officials like the president.

Romanoff held a news conference last week to highlight his endorsement by 61 current and former state legislators. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Mark Udall, and Reps. Jared Polis, Betsy Markey and John Salazar have all endorsed Bennet.

A spokesman for the Romanoff campaign declined to comment on Baca’s demands, but hastened to point out the protest wasn’t authorized by the campaign.

A separate group organized through the Web site AngryVoters.org staged a protest outside Obama’s visit and planned a march into downtown.

Romanoff, who spent much of the day campaigning in El Paso County, said after the Obama visit that the president’s position on campaign finance was closer to his own than it was to Bennet’s.

“I respect the President,” Romanoff said in a statement. “In fact, I’ve taken the same approach he did, by refusing to accept contributions from special interest groups. That may not make me popular in Washington, but the truth is, Washington is broken. I look forward to working with the President to deliver the reforms — in health care, the economy, and energy policy — that America needs.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com