Norton’s decision to petition fuels rebuke by competition

By Jody Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Jane Norton’s decision to forego the traditional caucus-assembly method of nomination for her U.S. Senate race in favor of petitioning on to the ballot has ignited a fireball of criticism from her opponents — although some of her boosters have publicly congratulated her on her recent political maneuver.

Jane Norton was all smiles at her candidacy announcement for U.S. Senate last September. This week, she shunned delegates and opted for the petition route to get on the Aug. ballot.

“Jane Norton was there with me at the state convention in 2002, 2004, and 2006 and I have every confidence she would perform admirably at the state convention this year. But each election is different, and clearly Michael Bennet’s decision to petition on has changed the game,” commented former Gov. Bill Owens. “This is a smart move that gives Republicans the best shot at victory in November.”

“Jane Norton’s… had my full support from the beginning, and that support continues today and on into November,” stated former U.S. Senator Hank Brown.

And GOP National Committeeman for Colorado Mark Hillman weighed in: “She has the resources to win in November, and this step puts her closer to that goal.”

At the other end of the spectrum, none of the criticism has been as venomous as that spewed by Walt Klein, who has consulted on numerous Republican campaigns over a thirty-year career — including those of Owens and Brown — and who now is a paid consultant on rival Weld County DA Ken Buck’s campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

“She’s found out that being anointed — or appointed — isn’t worth the powder to blow the phrase up,” Klein said about the former lieutenant governor, who officially announced her candidacy late last summer.

Klein, who has consulted and/or managed the Senate campaigns of Bill Armstrong in 1978, Hank Brown in 1990, Wayne Allard in 1996 and Bill Owens’ campaign for governor in 1998, noted the irony of these former elected officials, who are supporting Norton, having gone through the assembly process themselves and having battled it out in contested primaries before winning their general elections.

As for Norton’s public explanation that she is merely trying to keep up with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who himself announced last month that he’s also going to solicit petition signatures in addition to going through the state assembly on May 22, Klein said it was, by far, the strangest political explanation of a bad political move he’s heard in thirty years.

“Bennet made her do it? I may be dumb but not stupid,” Klein said. “It’s an insult.”

Then again, Klein snidely added, “if you’re a big shot, I suppose, they think they can write the rules of the game.”

Lobbing perhaps the cruelest insult yet, Klein said Norton’s sudden change in her game plan reeked of overtones of Republican Marc Holtzman’s chaotic campaign for governor in 2006.

Klein said Norton’s decision to withdraw from the state assembly “after seven months of sucking up to Republican delegates” and then to announce how they’re “going to follow wonderful path of Michael Bennet, give me a break! It’s a terrible miscalculation,” Klein said, “treating activists like they don’t know any better.”

Klein said he wasn’t totally surprised at Norton’s announcement since he’d been hearing rumors for the two weeks prior. And within the last four or five days, he said he’d pretty much had it confirmed by various sources.

Klein surmised that Charlie Black, well known Capitol Hill lobbyist who worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign — and who is married to Jane’s sister, Judy — flew in from Washington, D.C. Monday and presided at a meeting and told the campaign, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’” It’s just that kind of inside political shenanigans that his candidate, Buck, is rebelling against, he said.

Norton’s decision to go by petition, coupled with Tom Wiens’ decision last month to do likewise, doesn’t affect Buck’s strategy, Klein explained.

“Clearly in the weeks leading up to caucuses, Ken Buck was connecting (with supporters) and Jane Norton was not,” Klein said. While Buck was picking up support, as evidenced by the statewide straw polls taken at the March 16 caucuses, Norton was on a downward spiral that had begun months before. At a Douglas County GOP candidate forum earlier this month, Klein said his candidate did very well and Norton had perhaps her worst performance of the entire campaign.

It shows, Klein added, that if a candidate cannot connect with the voters, it doesn’t matter how much money they have.

“The announcement today is clear admission that she may have gotten to first base, but she hasn’t gotten to second or third.

“It’s a statement of monumental weakness when she’s supposed to be the giant killer.”

“This is not a decision I have made lightly,” Norton said in her statement on Tuesday. “I have participated in our precinct and convention process my whole life, and I remain respectful of these institutions. I admire the enthusiasm of the many party leaders who devote their efforts to promoting participation, including the 9,622 grassroots Republicans who honored me with their support in the caucus straw poll. The convention remains a vital part of Colorado’s political process, but the next six weeks are far too important to spend campaigning solely to a small bloc of voters,” Norton said.

“The appointed Senator’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,” Norton added.

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.

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.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com