Buck joins well-wishers celebrating Romanoff's birthday, attacking debt

By Ernest Luning

More than 400 party-goers — including a surprise guest — packed in Aug. 26 to celebrate former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff’s 44th birthday and help the candidate retire some of the debt he racked up in his unsuccessful primary challenge against Sen. Michael Bennet.

Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck, left, hands a Tea Party lapel pin to Democrat Andrew Romanoff at a party held Aug. 26 at Romanoff’s southeast Denver campaign headquarters. Buck gave Romanoff a donation to help retire the debt from his unsuccessful primary challenge against Sen. Michael Bennet.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Romanoff’s collection of campaign buttons and memorabilia went for more than $100 in the silent auction.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State House Majority Leader Paul Weissman, a Louisville Democrat, auctions off a trip for two to Mazatlan, which sold for just short of $1,000.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Gayle “Cap” Caplan, right, Andrew Romanoff’s mother, at his Aug. 26 birthday party.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Romanoff supporter Susie Scott shows off a sticker collage.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Andrew Romanoff hugs a supporter.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Proceeds from a silent auction, sales of campaign memorabilia and donations — again, including one from a surprise guest — helped the Denver Democrat whittle an estimated $25,000 off the roughly $385,000 his campaign owed after the August primary, including a sizeable chunk loaned by the candidate after he sold his house to finance a last-minute push in the insurgent campaign. Since the primary, the campaign has raised about half the $135,000 outstanding to vendors, said deputy campaign manager Berrick Abramson, and is chipping away at the rest.

While Bennet’s wife, environmental attorney Susan Daggett, showed up at the party with a $544 contribution — the Romanoff campaign had suggested donations ending in 44 to denote the candidate’s birthday — her gesture was soon upstaged by the arrival of Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney, who bestowed a Buck bumper sticker and a donation on the Democrat.

“Anytime you’re up in Greeley, you’ve got a place to stay,” Buck told Romanoff, drawing laughter from the crowd. He then proposed a comparison between Romanoff’s bid and his own primary run against former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.

“Andrew and I had a lot of similarities in this campaign. We were not the favorite of the establishment in D.C.,” Buck said, adding that the most prominent national figures who backed their campaigns were former President Bill Clinton and South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, respectively. “In the Republican Party, when you are the non-establishment candidate, you are the Tea Party candidate,” Buck said as he presented Romanoff with a lapel pin symbolizing the conservative movement.

“This is further evidence of the big tent we’re building here,” a good-humored Romanoff said after Buck stepped down to mingle with the crowd. He added, “I was thinking, the nerve of this guy, Ken Buck — taking on the national political establishment, bucking his party’s choice — who does he think he is, Andrew Romanoff?”

The nature of Buck’s visit sparked a brief controversy on blogs and online news outlets. A blogger at the political site Colorado Pols took offense that the Republican “crashed” the party, but a later posting by the conservative site Complete Colorado revealed that Buck had been invited to the bash by Romanoff’s cousin, who was one of his chief campaign aides. “I wish you luck in your race,” said a phone message left for Buck by Melissa Caplan, who later wrote in an e-mail to The Colorado Statesman that she was “just trying to cast as wide a net as possible to retire the debt.”

Buck declined to reveal the amount of his contribution to the Romanoff campaign, which he termed a “birthday present.”

“Neither Andrew nor I was aware Ken Buck was coming,” Abramson said after the event, quickly adding that both he and the candidate “were very pleased that Susan (Daggett) came by,” noting that “she had some very kind words.”

In a news release the next day, Buck’s campaign trumpeted the visit as a sign he’s reaching out to Democrats and claimed he signed up “many volunteers” at the event.

“As speaker, Andrew demonstrated that you can disagree without being disagreeable,” Buck said in a statement. “That’s the type of attitude I will take to the U.S. Senate.”

While most of the crowd was cordial toward Buck — excepting a handful of Democrats who peppered the Republican with questions about his stance on abortion and chanted “Get out Buck!” for a minute or so — Romanoff earlier made clear that he’d buried the hatchet with Bennet and supported him wholeheartedly.

“It is essential we now unite as a party, and as a movement, as a cause, to support Sen. Bennet and the rest of the Democratic ticket,” Romanoff said, adding that it wasn’t for his sake, Bennet’s sake or even for the sake of the Democratic Party. “The reason I ran for the U.S. Senate and the reason I’m asking you to support Michael in this effort right now is because the lives of too many people are still at stake.”

Earlier, a cheerful Romanoff told the crowd he doesn’t know what he’ll be doing next but joked that he wouldn’t have to look far to find a new address.

“I did not expect to be spending two weeks after the election in this position, asking you for your help, but we do have some vendors to pay, and I’d kind of like a place to live,” Romanoff said. “I figured I could go stay with Sen. Bennet, since they’ve got some room, and if I make a mess, I figure the girls could clean it up,” he quipped, referencing a popular television commercial the Bennet campaign ran during the primary that featured his three daughters.

It wasn’t the only dig Romanoff — who had a reputation at the statehouse for his sharp wit— got in at his former rival.

He recalled attending a Democratic unity rally at the Capitol two days after the primary, along with Sen. Mark Udall, Reps. Jared Polis and Diana DeGette and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. “I told someone I hadn’t seen so many Bennet supporters since I went to the editorial board of The Denver Post,” Romanoff said to raucous laughter from the crowd.

Echoing Jimmy Stewart in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Romanoff said as he looked around the room, filled with so many friends, he felt “like the richest man in the world.”

Abramson underscored the message that Democrats were united behind his campaign’s former primary foe.

“People from both sides are really coming together,” he said, adding that “a number of our people have started to get actively involved with the Bennet campaign.”

He continued: “Everyone has seen clearly the difference between Michael Bennet and Ken Buck. At the end of the day, the difference between the ideals and the ultimate goals and values of Michael and Andrew, and the extremism of Ken Buck, is so far out there, I have no question Democrats will unite behind Sen. Bennet and do what it takes to hold this seat.”

And as for the debt?

“We’re on our target for dealing with the initial chunk of the debt,” Abramson said, with plans in the works for an online auction as more donated items pour in and a series of house parties hosted by supporters. He said future fundraising endeavors would be listed at the campaign’s website, andrewromanoff.com.

One of the choice items of campaign memorabilia could be the Backbone Express, a Dodge van decorated by the campaign with slogans and photographs of Romanoff and his dog Zorro, which will likely soon go up for sale on eBay and Craigslist, Abramson said. And even if its eventual buyer doesn’t want to pay an estimated $10,000 to drive around advertising a defunct campaign — the decals peel right off — it could still be a bargain.

“Some family will get a great conversion van,” Abramson said, “outfitted with a backseat that pulls out into a bed, a TV, a DVD player — it’s a great van to take on road trips.”