Just about every news outlet in Colorado ran a story today on GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton’s surprise decision to petition on to the August primary ballot. Unlike the superficially comparable decision by Sen. Michael Bennet to gather petitions for the Democratic primary ballot, under GOP rules petitioning onto the ballot is mutually exclusive with participating in the caucus process–it’s apparently one or the other, which we didn’t know before this incident made it an issue; and Norton’s decision to abandon the party’s process is therefore much more consequential.
As the Grand Junction Sentinel reports:
U.S. senatorial candidate Jane Norton shocked members of her own party when she announced Tuesday she would try to petition onto the Republican Party primary ballot in August.
In an even more surprising move, Norton said she was abandoning the nomination process because of Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and not because her lead GOP challenger, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, has been doing better than she in the assembly process.
The announcement and her reasons for it left party members dumbfounded.
Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said it’s a mistake for candidates to alienate party activists who participate in the nominating process, particularly this year when there are so many new people getting involved.
“We have not only the longtime activists who participated, but we have a very high number of people who have never been involved before,” Wadhams said. “It is a mistake for any candidate to turn their back on this process and those important activists. Ken Buck’s been given a tremendous advantage by this decision.”
…Democratic Party rules allow candidates to go both routes at the same time. Only the Republican Party requires its candidates to choose one over the other.
…the Grand Junction native said she is turning to those Republicans who are active but not in the assembly process.
“(We’re) courting them while taking our message to the primary voters that heretofore have been disaffected by the process,” Norton said. “We can focus for six weeks on winning a convention, or we can focus that same amount of time on talking to the voters and to our party faithful.”
Wadhams and Klein said it’s impossible to be “disaffected” by a nominating process that’s open to all registered Republicans, particularly at a time when they’re seeing a record number participate in it.
The public relations problem for Norton going the petition route is more complicated than that faced by Bennet, precisely because of these party-specific rules that exclude her from the assembly process. For Bennet, who is free and by all accounts intends to continue participating in the Democratic nominating process (and who nobody seriously thinks risks less than the magic 30% needed to make the ballot at assembly), the decision to pursue petitions and the assembly is more like pulling the other hand out from behind one’s back.
It’s worth restating that nothing guarantees the winner of the assembly process victory in the subsequent primary, in fact often the choice of the most ardent partisan activists–caucus participants–gets drilled in the actual election. And we also have no way of knowing whether the anger expressed by Dick Wadhams in this article is genuine: there is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest it’s a contrivance. Either way, it’s tough to find anybody willing to say on record that announcing this decision now was a good idea. If Ken Buck, as we’ve said, doesn’t have a truly head-turning Q1, Norton just abandoned a key battlefield to inferior forces.