Bypassing the Buck? Norton reportedly considering petition route

UPDATED: Norton, state officials confirm petition drive

Republican Senate candidate Jane Norton will petition onto the August primary ballot, her campaign confirmed in a statement Tuesday morning. The plan, first reported by The Colorado Statesman, allows the former lieutenant governor to compete for voters immediately, her campaign said.

“This is not a decision I have made lightly," Norton said in a statement. "I have participated in our precinct and convention process my whole life, and I remain respectful of these institutions." Nonetheless, she said, she "will begin campaigning full-time for the primary today. I am blessed with a strong grassroots campaign organization in all 64 Colorado counties, and we will use that network to collect petition signatures, recruit new volunteers, expand our organization, and continue to bring our message of limited government to all corners of the state."

Norton said that Sen. Bennet's decision to gather petitions will give him an opportunity to campaign on a broad public stage over the next six weeks, "and that’s an advantage I will not cede to him. I will spend the next six weeks campaigning on the issues to the several hundred thousand Coloradans who will vote in the Republican primary, not to mention thousands of other unaffiliated and Democrat voters who are sick and tired of business as usual in Washington."

A spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state's office also confirmed the Norton campaign has submitted a petition for approval.

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By Jody Hope Strogoff & Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck may find it a little lonely at his party’s state assembly on May 22. Former state Sen. Tom Wiens from Castle Rock, one of the three major candidates in the race, announced at the end of March that he’ll bypass the more traditional caucus-assembly route for ballot access and instead petition on.

Now comes word that Jane Norton, who tied with Buck with roughly 37 percent in a straw poll taken March 16 at GOP precinct caucuses, may follow suit and use the petition method herself.

The Norton campaign did not respond to requests for comment from The Colorado Statesman. But a source from a company that collects signatures for candidates in Colorado says the Norton campaign was presented with a proposal not too long ago and appeared receptive to the idea.

Republicans have been choosing delegates to the state assembly at county confabs the last three weeks. GOP delegates aren't chosen based on candidate preference — unlike their Democratic counterparts — but an insurgent wing of the Republican Party has packed assemblies with Tea Party supporters and others intent on shaking up the party establishment. They are presumed to be supporters of Buck, making it likely that he would receive topline at the May 22 state assembly. A candidate needs 30 percent of the delegates’ votes to secure a spot on the August primary ballot.

To gain access through the petition route, a candidate needs 1,500 verifiable signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts. The deadline is May 27. If Norton wants to hire petition circulators, she certainly has the money. Norton reported collecting more than $800,000 in the first quarter of this year.

The usual method for candidates to win a spot in the primary election is to woo party activists from neighborhood caucuses all the way through the state assembly. But already this year, one of the leading Republican candidates for state treasurer, businessman Walker Stapleton, has announced he intends to ignore the assembly and get onto the ballot by petition. That would leave his two rivals, J.J. Ament and Ali Hasan, to jostle for delegates and top-line position, virtually ensuring a three-way primary. Wiens announced a similar plan last month after garnering only 12 percent support in the GOP caucus straw poll. If successful, he would face Buck and Norton in an August election where his personal fortune could tip the balance. Because candidates need at least 30 percent support to win nomination at the assembly, it's virtually impossible for three candidates to emerge from the state assembly.

GOP State Chairman Dick Wadhams has laid down the gauntlet about candidates who choose to use the petition method to get on the ballot. They will not be allowed to speak at the state assembly, Wadhams told The Statesman last week. Likewise, they will not be allowed to have their banners or signs on display, and they will be barred from having their candidate literature on the premises of the assembly, which is being held in Loveland this year.

The Republican leader also said he has given all candidates until April 30 to make up their minds as to whether to go by petition or through the assembly, at which time the party plans to make preparations for the printing of the ballots which will be used at the May 22 event.

In 2008, first-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, announced he would bypass assemblies and petition onto the ballot. At the time, Lamborn faced a challenge from Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn, two of the five Republicans Lamborn defeated in a crowded 2006 primary for the seat vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet announced April 2 that he would conduct a petition drive in parallel with the assembly process. Bennet’s primary challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, blasted the announcement as an admission of weakness among Democratic activists and said Bennet must fear he won't get the necessary support of 30 percent of delegates to make it onto the ballot. The Bennet campaign dismissed the criticism, saying it would reach tens of thousands of voters who don't participate in caucuses and party assemblies.

Wadhams said that the state assembly is terribly important to the Senate race no matter how many candidates compete for delegate support that day. He pointed out that delegates are the backbone of get-out-the-vote efforts and are crucial in getting volunteers to work for a candidate.

Besides, there’s always the gubernatorial race, Wadhams said, where it looks like both Scott McInnis and Dan Maes will each get enough delegates to get on the August primary ballot.

But if Buck is the only major contender in the Senate race at the state assembly, it could make his “victory” more than a little hollow.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com