Romanoff, who is hoping to unseat Michael Bennet, the former Denver superintendent of schools who was appointed last year to fill Ken Salazar’s vacated seat.
Neither Democrat has much criticized the other in what has been a distinctly civil primary campaign so far. However, it was clear to Romanoff’s Ridgway audience that his election successes and experience in leading a legislative body were meant to contrast with Bennet’s story of a man who is making his first foray into electoral politics.
Bennet is running as the incumbent and has President Obama’s endorsement, but Romanoff will appear first on the ballot and has won consistent majorities in statewide party caucuses. Former president Bill Clinton endorsed Romanoff in June.
In 2009, when President Obama chose Salazar to head the Department of Interior, Governor Ritter was charged to fill the empty Senate seat. Romanoff, a popular four-term Colorado House member from District 6 (Denver), and Speaker of the House from 2005 until 2008 when term limits forced his retirement, made the short list, but Ritter ultimately selected Bennet.
The Obama administration offered Romanoff a shot at several positions within the new administration in the hope that he would not run against Bennet in 2010. But Romanoff demurred. The Senate is where he wants to be.
An audience member asked Romanoff why he would want to leave Colorado for Washington, D.C. The 43-year-old laughed and paraphrased a conundrum often repeated by candidates for national office: “I hate Washington. Please send me there.”
And then: “The gulf oil slick is part of a bigger slick spreading over Washington, courtesy of Big Oil…I am the only candidate in the race who refuses to accept a dime of special interest money. I believe voters like my stand.”
He went on to characterize the Senate as doing “almost nothing” on energy policy. His opponent, he said, voted against an amendment that would have designated some federal oil and gas severance taxes for investment in alternative and renewable fuels.
“I believe we have an obligation to end our dependence on fossil fuels. Energy is the most important debate we could be having,” Romanoff said. “And it’s a debate we’re not having right now [in Washington].”
On whether he would be a “tax-and-spend liberal”? “The president who endorses me balanced the federal budget and left his successor with a surplus.”
On his aspiration to get the U.S. Senate to be more than a place “where good legislation goes to die,” Romanoff said Senators need to “stand up for their principles, for their states, and for the planet.” He concluded that “President Obama’s good qualities are not matched at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The primary is August 10.