The Caucus Spin: Who REALLY Has the Most at Stake?

As Politico reports today, the spin is in full effect on the eve of tonight’s caucuses. Read some of the quotes after the jump, including our take on who really has the most at stake in the race for U.S. Senate…including a potential glimpse into the results.

…history shows that a victory in the first step of Colorado’s complicated election process only occasionally translates into success in the primary. Over the past four decades, just three statewide candidates who have captured the backing of the state assembly through the caucus process went on to become their party’s nominee.

Former Sen. Ken Salazar and Tom Strickland – the last two Democratic Senate nominees in Colorado who faced contested primaries – both lost the caucuses…

…”The caucus and the assembly process is the most favorable turf possible for Speaker Romanoff. If he can’t win convincingly on Tuesday, it’s very hard to see where he goes from there,” Bennet campaign manager Craig Hughes said.

“I’d consider it a victory if Romanoff is competitive against Bennet, who has exploited all the advantages of incumbency and has the support of the Washington establishment from the White House on down,” Romanoff spokesman Dean Toda said. “Against those odds, if Romanoff gets 50 plus 1, it would send a powerful signal.”

The Republican front-runner is also bracing for a competitive caucus night. While former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton has an advantage in fundraising and polls, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck is poised to pull off an upset.

Over the weekend, Buck won the endorsement of one of Colorado’s largest tea party organizations, Hear Us Now!

“Ken and the campaign feel very good going in,” Buck adviser Walt Klein said. “Norton is supposed to be the front-runner, but I think Ken Buck is going to give her a run for her money. I think he’s going to be competitive, and that’s all he has to do to build on the momentum. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken won by a small margin and Jane finished second,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Klein predicted that from 50,000 to 60,000 Republicans will participate, a number that would be higher than average, but that still represents just a sliver of the electorate.

Norton’s campaign, which has already spent nearly $260,000 on television advertisements, appeared to downplay the caucus as just one part of a long primary process.

“The straw poll is a sideshow to the real purpose of tomorrow night: electing delegates to begin the nominating process. We’re not taking anything for granted, and an unscientific straw poll isn’t going to change our strategy one bit,” Norton spokesman Nate Strauch said.

We’ve highlighted what is definitely the most interesting quote we’ve seen to date about the caucuses. The spin game is all about lowering expectations for your candidate and raising them for your opponent, which is why the quote from Republican Ken Buck’s advisor, Walt Klein, is so interesting. You don’t say something like what Klein said unless you are fairly confident about the likely results, so we’re guessing that Buck’s campaign has counted the votes and sees good things in their guy’s future tonight.

If Buck wins the caucus, that will certainly give him some momentum, but at the end of the day he still needs to do much, much better at raising money (after a measly $40k in Q4 2009) if he is going to have a chance in August. Tonight isn’t as meaningful for Norton, unless she really bombs, because her campaign has always been more focused on a broader section of voters. We’re most interested in seeing the results for Tom Wiens, who was the last of the three Republicans to enter this race. Wiens isn’t well known among GOP primary voters, but what kind of support will he garner among the more active caucus-goer Republicans?

As for the Democratic side, it’s no secret — no matter the spin — that this is a huge night for Andrew Romanoff. For months he and his supporters have talked about all the things that Romanoff did for Democrats while in the state legislature, and about how all the county chairs supported him for the Senate appointment in late 2008. Romanoff’s team can’t lower expectations at this point because they’ve already spent six months explaining why the kind of people who will attend the caucus are exactly the kind of people who want him in the Senate. By his own spin, Romanoff is supposed to be the most popular of the two Democrats among activist Democrats; he set this night up to be important by his own message.

With that said, there’s only two real scenarios that matter on the Democratic side:

1. Romanoff holds Bennet under the 30% threshold to qualify for the ballot

2. Bennet beats Romanoff by more than 5 points in a low-turnout caucus

Under the first scenario, Romanoff would have real momentum coming out of the caucus and might be able to use that to raise significant money. Romanoff could say that he can beat Bennet without the same kind of resources, and a sitting Senator would have to explain how he couldn’t even get his name on the ballot through his own base.

Under scenario #2, Romanoff would have to explain why the one base of voters he has always talked about is not in his corner. If this happens, then it’s really hard to see how Romanoff can end up winning the primary. His road to victory, until this point, was that a committed base of Democrats would carry him over the line in a low-turnout primary; without that committed base, how do you map out a new winning strategy?

Now, if neither of these two scenarios take place, then nothing really changes tomorrow. It doesn’t really tell us anything if Romanoff wins 60-40, because that’s what his supporters have always led people to believe — that activist Democrats like him better. There’s nothing new there.

Likewise, what do we learn if either candidate wins a close ballot in a high-turnout caucus? We have been led to believe that Romanoff supporters are activist Democrats who will turn out to help him. We have been led to believe that Bennet’s ties to President Obama and his organizing network will really help the Senator. In a close race with a strong turnout, both of these things remain true.

There’s a good possibility that tonight will have a significant effect on the outcome of the Republican and Democratic primaries. There’s also a good possibility that tonight will end up meaning very little. Thus the mystery that is the caucus system in Colorado.

42 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Ah Choo says:

    Put plainly, this is a big day for Andrew Romanoff, and most Democrats agree that he needs to make a statement. Whether that comes with his showing at the caucuses or with a strong quarter of fundraising, he needs something.

    If Andrew Romanoff can’t beat Bennet when he has the home court advantage with the die-hard caucus crowd, what’s he going to do when he’s in a race that takes real money? Keep whining?  

    • Voyageur says:

      If Bennet edges Romanoff even 51-49, it’s a serious blow to a candidacy that will have shown it can’t deliver its core base, the party faithful and activists.  

      • Ah Choo says:

        The campaign’s emails, even the ones in his name, are just increasingly…bitter.

        What’s with so much bitterness? Bennet can and should be running and fighting hard. It’s called campaigning.  

        • PERA hopeful says:

          And if I heard him correctly, he said that the Obama administration was putting pressure on him to drop out, saying things like “You have a good reputation in Colorado … it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”  This shocked me.  

          It shocked me because I have always liked and trusted Andrew, but this sounds like total bullshit.  Did anyone else hear this?  Did I hear correctly?  He also said he thought he’d wake up the next morning with a donkey head in his bed.  The whole thing sounded weird to me.

          • Ah Choo says:

            How does that play well with the party? I thought Andrew applied for a position with the administration, and either didn’t go through the vetting or just wasn’t hired. Tough luck.

            But openly attacking our Democratic president with Republican talking points? This is just too much. Enough of all this bitterness.

            Bitter just doesn’t win elections.  

          • wade norris says:

            but Joe Sestak also indicated the White House offered him a federal job to get to drop out of the Pennsylvania race.


            this does not prove AR’s assertion, but it does make it sound like what he said may have more substance to it than just be  ‘total bullshit’

            • MADCO says:

              Pera hopeful didn’t say that reports that AR was offered a job  is total bull shit.

              Pera hopeful wrote:

              And if I heard him correctly, he said that the Obama administration was putting pressure on him to drop out, saying things like “You have a good reputation in Colorado … it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”  This shocked me.  

              It shocked me because I have always liked and trusted Andrew, but this sounds like total bullshit.

              And then I posted th elink- listen to it- PH is right, that is what AR said.

                • MADCO says:

                  Then why didn’t AR just come right and say I was offered a job, insert job title here, and I said no?

                  You’re saying that claiming he was offered a job and saying what Pera H. correctly quotes is a hair split.

                  You’re crazy.

                  BTW- I also heard AR backing away and then two stepping all over the place from saying he would vote to kill the current healthcare bill. Sirota didn’t ask about the real choice on Dec 24- he just asked about now and AR wouldn’t answer the question.  But he also didn’t attempt that lame false choice total bs, which I guess you’d also call a hair split.

                  • wade norris says:

                    Pera’s assessment that the White House could be putting pressure on Senate candidates to drop is in line with many other races.

                    1) The WH cleared the field for Gillibrand – telling potential challengers not to get in the race (and they didn’t)

                    2) The WH offered Sestak a job to drop out

                    3) The WH endorsed Blanche Lincoln the day after she was challenged by Halter (similar to the endorsement of Bennet the day after Romanoff challenged)

                    All of these examples are clear evidence that the President supports incumbents over challengers, and AR’s statement that he was pressured to drop out sounds like more of the same, it does not sound ‘like total bullshit’ as PH said, it sounds like a logical continuation of the WH’s pattern.

            • Ralphie says:

              Your guy wants to dump on Obama and try to get nominated as a Democrat, he should go for it.

              Personally, I don’t think it’s going to work all that well, but what the hell?

              • wade norris says:

                guts to post his own diary…

                • redstateblues says:

                  You obviously have no idea who you’re talking to. I bet you $100 that Ralphie has posted more blog posts than you.

                  It’s just that, unlike you, Ralphie doesn’t crosspost everything he writes to every single user-generated content political blog.

                • Middle of the Road says:

                  You’re the best example of that philosophy I’ve ever met.

                  Oh, and Ralphie has his own blog.  

                • Ralphie says:

                  I write my own blog.

                  It’s pretty damned hard to write an article every day, but I’ve managed to do it 1,583 times.  Only 1,582 if you count the guest post I ran two days after my daughter died.

                  • RedGreen says:

                    Wade just learned that Barron was a member of “the Constitution wing of the Republican Party” during the middle of his rant about a joke post Barron put up. He’s not too keen on the details about other Polsters. (Barron, as anyone who reads Pols regularly should know, isn’t the member of any “wing” of the Republican Party.)

          • MADCO says:


            About 10 minutes into it.

            He doesn’t attribute it to any one person, but ypu have it about right.

            • PERA hopeful says:

              I didn’t mean to start a fight and leave; I had things going on and couldn’t hang around Pols to weigh in.

              If Andrew had said that the White House offered him a job if he’d stay out of the race, I would absolutely believe that and frankly wouldn’t have thought a thing about it.  But that’s not what he said.  I inferred that he was saying that the White House was threatening to smear him, to ruin his reputation, unless he stayed out/got out of the race.  I did not believe that.  For goodness’s sake, has the White House said or done anything to harm his reputation?  Not that I’ve heard.  But Andrew was willing to go on AM760 to accuse the White House of threatening him, and I think that is total bullshit.

              And I think Ralphie hit the nail on the head.  Most Colorado Democrats like Obama a lot, I think, and Romanoff doesn’t score many points when he attacks Obama.

      • Libertad says:

        and I think the Bennet tide is turning.  More and more I hear Dem friends saying Bennet’s their choice.

        As to next steps, it would be a great opportunity for Hickenlooper to pick up a solid LG running mate.

        • Voyageur says:

          I’m not sure he brings much to a Hickenlooper ticket.  Hick doesn’t need to nail down the base, he needs to reach out.  Kathleen Curry, a West Slope, moderate, woman would have been perfect, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

            Bernie Buescher would be perfect, but he has a day job and is very good at it.

             Buffie McFadyen of Pueblo, maybe?

             On the other hand, AR has great skills and great energy and it would help unify the party.  Maybe nobody really votes for LG anyway.  And if experience counts, Barbara O’Brien has done a good job for Ritter.

          • Danny the Red (hair) says:

            Not WS, but not metro either.

            • Voyageur says:

              a woman, an experienced legislator and has a strong record on transportation.

              I once dubbed her “Buffie the Pothole Slayer” and there are worse sobriquets to carry into an election.

              • Danny the Red (hair) says:

                She knows how to speak “labor”, she is carrying an anti contracting fraud bill this session that could save the state a lot of money and her work on the prison system is just about the best thing I’ve seen.

                Those are just a few of the things I like about her.

                I like Bernie as well, but why set up a real fight for that office since he is doing a great job.

                Barbara, I agree, but you can’t pick her–too much of a continuation of Governor Ritter.

  2. RedGreen says:

    That’s a squishy category. If 15,000 D’s turn out, that’s a low-turnout caucus. But what if it’s 25,000? Considering 120,000 Democrats made it to caucus in 2008, how high can the number get and it still be a low-turnout caucus?

    • MADCO says:

      Whatever anyone needs it to be to make their spin fit.

      • RedGreen says:

        below which is low turnout and above which is high turnout. I’m betting it’s about 20,000 for Democrats.

        But it’s not all going to be spin. There are some possible outcomes (which are highly unlikely, granted) that can’t be spun away and will lead to a candidate deciding whether it’s prudent to continue.  

  3. HollywoodColorado says:

    I would argue that three people tonight have the most at stake.

    1. Buck

    Like Pols suggested, either Buck has counted the attendees this evening and knows something we all don’t or he’s setting himself up for disaster. Let’s be honest here, even if Buck does well, he still isn’t the front runner. I’ve never heard of anyone raising as little as Buck has ($40,000 last quarter) and being a serious contender. For his campaign manager to assert he is going to win this evening is baffling.  

    If Buck losses tonight, I think the writing is on the wall for him. He constantly asserts himself as the “grassroots candidate”, yet if the grassroots reject him, not only will he lack the necessary funds to run a statewide campaign, but he won’t have the support we all think he has from the tea party.

    2. Romanoff

    If Romanoff wins tonight, it will be a serious momentum builder for his campaign. He’ll never match Bennet in terms of money, but he can hammer home the assertion of him being the people’s choice and Bennet being Washington’s choice.

    3. Wiens

    The Wiens campaign has been virtually silent since his only talking point came under fire. When it was reported that he supported Ref. C., he only garnered attention for being a hypocrite while attacking Norton.

    A win for Wiens tonight would elevate him considerably. Not only would he have the funds to mount a serious challenge to Norton, but he would have the base support as well.

    If Wiens loses big, he has virtually no chance in the primary and might as well save his money and retire onto is $35 million ranch built on other people’s money.

    If Norton wins tonight or come within a couple of percentage points, it’s over for the rest field. Not only will she having the backing of the party, but she will have the backing of the base while being seen as electable to independents.

    If Bennet wins, he will will be the nominee, it’s that simple.

    • scobb99 says:

      If he seriously thinks he can pull of a victory even with recent polls showing Norton with a 17 point lead he is absolutely insane. If he doesn’t pull off some sort of miracle he can kiss his candidacy goodbye.

      • DavidThi808 says:

        oh wow would that be a game changer. My guess is he sees and outside chance of winning, realizes that is his only road forward, and so has doubled down on it.

        • RedGreen says:

          Buck has reason to believe he will do very well tonight because the Tea Party and other insurgent Republican attendees are coalescing around him, and they’re going to turn out in droves. The question following that, though, is whether he is a stalking horse for Wiens. Don’t count that out.

        • scobb99 says:

          It’s a gamble with a very low chance of success, but I think you’re right. If he has surprising numbers it will give him a desperately needed boost.

    • Ralphie says:

      If romanoff wins tonight, it is what what was expected.  No big plus, just the expected.  It’s what I expect, anyway.

      If he loses tonight, he’s got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

      There’s a lot at stake for him.

  4. dlof says:

    The 30% threshold is not a measuring stick at the caucus.  It’s and assembly issue, if I am not incorrect, since that’s where the primary ballot is set.

    At least in Weld Co. the caucus only has an informal, non-binding poll.  So I’d argue that the only up side is for Bennet, in that, if he is competitive, he gets to call into question Romanoff’s base of support argument.

    • RedGreen says:

      will not translate directly into delegate support, which is figured using a 15% threshold and then gets even harder to actually project eventual state assembly delegates. But it would be a powerful message if Bennet came in under 30% in the preference poll. He won’t, but it would still be a powerful message.

    • Tom says:

      The caucuses (caucusi?)are the source for assembly delegates, so a lower than 30% result means defacto a loss at county assemblies unless someone starts really hounding delegates to switch their votes.  I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see a higher than usual number of unpledged delegates coming out of the caucus.

  5. DentistCare says:

    If he loses tonight, he’s got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

  6. Walt’s quote comes from the fact that Buck works with the BEST consulting firm in Colorado – Magellan Data and Mapping, ran by David Flaherty

    Magellan can poll and analyze just about anything (even Caucuses and Assemblies) – I’ve been extremely happy with their work so far

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