With the Democratic Party set for a bruising primary in the 2010 Senate race, the vaunted “Colorado Model” of left-leaning messaging organizations finds itself in a bit of a pickle. They are, perhaps for the first time since their rise to prominence in 2004, robbed of the ability to speak positively about their top-line candidate–since they don’t know who it will be.
But there is one thing they can all agree on today regardless of primary loyalties, which is the pressing need to cut the feet out from under the presumed Republican frontrunner, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. And there’s a limited window of time for Democrats to effectively do that–starting this week, as she makes her formal campaign announcement tomorrow.
So what’s the line shaping up on Norton? Well for starters, as we’ve established, she’s not Gale–though we doubt Democrats will mind if Gale Norton’s scandalous ties to Jack Abramoff, et al. become mistakenly associated with Jane. Few know who Jane Norton is, that’s the point, she’s a tabula rasa as far as the average voter is concerned; therein lying the “crisitunity” for both sides.
There are two main lines of attack under development to weaken Norton before she can get traction: we preview them after the jump.
1. Jane Norton is tainted by family and professional connections to lobbying. Norton’s husband and ex-husband, daughter, sister and brother-in-law are all current or former lobbyists for the banks, oil companies, the healthcare industry, and tobacco companies. Norton’s brother-in-law is the notorious Charlie Black, a career lobbyist whose clients have included such notables as Angolan guerilla commander Jonas Savimbi and Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. On any objective scale, it’s doesn’t get much more “tied in” than this.
Liberal activist group Progress Now sent a press release earlier today, raising questions about Norton’s own role as “Director of Government Relations” for the Medical Group Management Association–a position she held from 1994-99. Described by Progress Now as the “lobbying arm of a for-profit health trade lobbying organization,” apparently there’s no record of Norton herself having registered as a lobbyist at the state or federal level. We’ll be interested in seeing the explanation for this, though we haven’t seen anything yet as obviously disasteful as 2008 Senate candidate Bob Schaffer’s parasailing off Saipan on Jack Abramoff’s nickel. That said, we can envision an aggregate weight of “wow, this relative’s a lobbyist too?” that could prove troublesome for Norton–especially if any of them were involved in something truly unsavory.
2. Norton is a religiously extreme. Jane Norton is a prominent member of Smoky Hill Vineyard Church, a fundamentalist Pentecostal-cum-“nondenominational” megachurch with “Vineyard Movement” counterparts around the nation. The “Vineyard Movement,” as it turns out, has some rather unusual practices–from an expository article by Rev. Vincent Nicotra of Christian Fallacies:
As part of the “Third Wave” the Vineyard Movement emphasizes miracles, healings, casting out demons, and prophetic utterances as the things that will cause people to be won to Christ and discipled. This thought was predicated on Wimber’s belief that the gospel was ineffective without the accompaniment of signs and wonders. Therefore, “signs and wonders” are employed with certain church growth methodologies to get the desired results, namely converts. These “Third Wavers” are taught that by performing “signs and wonders” they are reliving the days of the apostles.”
Personal experience rather than Scripture seems to be what drives the movements worship. Congregants are told not to allow their minds to quench the Spirit, but to be open to allowing the Spirit to speak directly to their hearts. Consequently, observers of the services have witnessed congregants barking like dogs as well as making other animal noises such as roaring lions, weeping and dancing uncontrollably, shaking, jumping up and down (pogoing), and falling on the floor in group convulsions. In other words, chaos is normative in their services. [Pols emphasis]
In addition to this fundamental flaw, Vineyard’s theology is errant in several other areas, the most serious of these being their teaching on the person and work of Christ. They teach that although Jesus was fully divine, He completely set aside His divinity during His time on earth and performed His miracles as a human through the power of the Holy Spirit. This leads them to believe that man can perform miracles, works, and have knowledge as Jesus did.
While they may not admit it, Vineyard also teaches a form of Dominion theology. They believe that Christ’s first coming restored dominion over every area of life. Therefore, it is the church’s obligation to redeem not only individuals, but every area of society in order to usher in God’s Kingdom… [Pols emphasis]
It’s one thing to be a religiously expressive federal political candidate, for whom some kind of statement of faith is considered basically mandatory. We’re not sure barking like a dog in church or redeeming “every area of society in order to usher in God’s Kingdom” will be positively received by voters, however: in fact if we were Norton, we’d probably keep the theocracy stuff (and the plain nutty-sounding stuff) as down-low as possible. Democrats need to tread carefully here to avoid appearing contemptuous of religion, but most Christians we know will not identify with articles of faith like those described above. At all.
Still another vector Democrats have against Jane Norton is the fact that the GOP rank-and-file does not appear to want her, citing her support for 2005’s Referendum C and general “Owens wing” affiliations. This is an argument to be made subtly, and in a way that firewalls the message at the right wing, since the one thing Democrats don’t want is for Norton to appear “moderate” on any issue–a toxic label in a GOP primary but relatively useful in a general statewide election. How skillfully Democrats manage to exploit this division without turning it into a general election asset will be an important test.
Bottom line: Jane Norton has all the markings of a tough candidate. Her novelty, like that of former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, makes her dangerous to Democrats–but also presents a serious challenge for her own backers, to define her to the public before Democrats do.
Democrats, as beset as they may be with their own problems, do not intend to make that easy.