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Andrew Romanoff surges in Colorado Senate

By Chris Cillizza
Monday, August 2, 2010; 9:41 AM

1. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet is in real jeopardy in the Aug. 10 Colorado primary, according to a new independent poll released over the weekend.

Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff takes 48 percent to 45 percent for Bennet in the Survey USA poll conducted for the Denver Post. (Survey USA uses an automated system to conduct its interviews, a somewhat controversial methodology in the world of opinion research.)

In June, Romanoff trailed Bennet by 17 points but, as the challenger has raised his name identification statewide, his numbers have markedly improved.

Seeking to blunt Romanoff's momentum from the poll release, Bennet issued poll numbers of his own on Sunday. In a survey conducted by Paul Harstad, Bennet held a 41 percent to 37 percent edge and, among the one-quarter of voters who had already cast their ballots via mail, the incumbent's lead was five points.

Still, even in the Bennet poll, roughly one in five voters had yet to make up their minds about which candidate they preferred -- never a good sign for an incumbent, even one who has spent as little time in Washington as Bennet. (He was appointed to the seat in early 2009, following Sen. Ken Salazar's ascension to a post as Secretary of the Interior in the Obama Administration.)

Bennet, according to a source who has seen private polling, is struggling to convince voters that he is not part of Washington -- a dangerous thing in a political environment like this one where anything coming from the nation's capitol is viewed skeptically by the public.

Romanoff, too, has tried to frame the race as a choice between an insider and an outsider, refusing to take money from political action committees -- a move that has drastically limited his fundraising ability and led him to sell his house last week to raise funds for the final push.

On television, too, Romanoff is pushing the insider-outsider dynamic; his latest ad paints Bennet as a tool of Wall Street -- alleging that in the private sector the incumbent "pushed companies into bankruptcy and looted a billion dollars." (The Denver Post called the ad "over the top".)

If Bennet comes up short in next Tuesday's primary he will join Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) who have already lost their bids for renomination this year. Already more Senators have fallen in primary races this cycle than in any election since 1980 when four incumbents fell short in intraparty contests.

2. Billionaire real estate developer Jeff Greene, who is competing with Rep. Kendrick Meek for the Democratic nod in Florida's Senate race, is shaking up his campaign (again) with a little over three weeks remaining until the Aug. 24 primary.

In addition to bringing on media consultants Tad Devine and Julian Mulvey, Greene announced that he has also hired Vincent Rongione as his new campaign manager, replacing Jessica Vandenberg who was hired just days ago to run the operation.

Rongione worked most recently as campaign manager for Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Lentz (D) in the race for the seat of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who is running for Senate. He has also worked as communications director for Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.)

Joe Trippi, who had been Greene's media consultant since he launched his bid in late April, is officially out as is Paul Blank who was serving as a communications adviser to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Greene's bid was dealt a blow in a scathing profile published by the St. Petersburg Times over the weekend.

The profile, penned by the paper's chief political reporter Adam Smith, included interviews with a variety of current and former Greene employees and paints a decidedly unflattering portrait of the first-time candidate.

Among the revelations: Greene's onetime personal chef sued the candidate last year, alleging that Greene "demanded round-the-clock attention" and fired him after he was hospitalized with exhaustion; a former deckhand on Greene's yacht said that it took eight months of legal wrangling to get Greene to pay for medical bills after an on-the-job accident; and a former tenant of one of Greene's properties charged that Greene threatened to get a city council aide fired in retaliation for the aide's work on behalf of the tenant.

The allegations, which primarily center around Greene's yacht -- named Summerwind, natch -- will almost certainly be in an ad for Rep. Kendrick Meek as soon as the Congressman's campaign can cut one. (Meek is currently on television bashing Greene for making millions by betting against the housing bubble.)

Meek's camp also got a boost over the weekend when a White House official confirmed that the four-term congressman will be present when President Barack Obama visits Miami August 18 for a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser. (Previous reports stated that state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is running for governor, would attend but made no mention of Meek.) Meek's camp confirmed to The Fix that the Congressman will attend the event. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is also hosting a fundraiser for Meek in Washington tonight.

Meek and Greene face off in the Democratic primary on Aug. 24. Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) and Gov. Charlie Crist (I) are also running.

3. Ophthalmologist Rand Paul's (R) lead in Kentucky's Senate race has grown to eight points -- and he's over the crucial 50 percent mark -- according to a new automated SurveyUSA poll for the Louisville Courier Journal.

The poll has Paul at 51 percent and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) at 43 percent. That margin is slightly bigger than the 51 percent to 45 percent lead Paul held in another SurveyUSA poll two weeks ago.

Paul has shown a lead in nearly every public poll on the race, but most of his leads have been within the margin of error, and Conway's campaign released a poll a month ago showing them tied at 44 percent.

A poll for a local cable station last week showed Paul leading 41 percent to 38 percent.

The new poll shows Paul leading among all age groups, taking one-quarter of Democrats and leading 54 percent to 36 percent among independents. The poll shows the Tea Party, with which Paul closely associates himself, is viewed favorably by 41 percent of voters and unfavorably by 25 percent.

Democrats view Kentucky as one of their best pickup chances due to Paul's unpredictability on the campaign trail. Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is vacating the seat after two terms.

4. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) made the rounds in eastern Iowa over the weekend, delivering red meat Republican talking points at a series of campaign events for state GOPers but also taking careful steps to woo the activists who will be key in the 2012 caucuses.

Pawlenty accused President Obama of creating a "1940s-style government bureaucracy" domestically and of damaging America's standing internationally. "We need to make sure there's no confusion on where we stand, what we stand for and who we stand with," Pawlenty said at an event in Waverly.

The trip was thought to be Pawlenty's third to the state this cycle, but it was actually his fourth -- two weeks ago, he made a previously unannounced visit to speak to a group of pastors, according to the Des Moines Register's Tom Beaumont. A Pawlenty adviser confirmed to The Fix that Pawlenty made the visit, a "quick, private trip" that was unannounced because the hosts didn't want media attention.

And at a Cedar Rapids fundraiser over the weekend, Pawlenty made a point of mentioning his faith, telling the crowd to remember that "our rights and our privileges flow from our creator and not from our member of Congress."

Social conservatives are a powerful voting bloc in Iowa -- as evidenced by former Arkansas Governor (and preacher) Mike Huckabee's victory there in 2008.

Pawlenty is also deploying his wife, Mary, on the Iowa campaign trail. The grandmother of Mary Pawlenty, who introduced her husband at several events over the weekend, lived in Decatur County in southern Iowa.

"She's got some Iowa roots," the governor said of his wife; Mary Pawlenty, for her part, talked up her family's summer visits to the state, telling a Dubuque crowd that "it's completely gorgeous here" and adding: "I wish we could stay a lot longer."

Pawlenty has been by far the most active candidate of the 2012 field and, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is regarded as a near-certain candidate.

5. Former Sen. Mark Dayton continues to lead the Minnesota Democratic primary for governor, and both he and the party-endorsed candidate would be favorites in the general election, according to a new poll for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The new Minnesota Poll shows Dayton at 40 percent in the Aug. 10 primary, followed by state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who won the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement earlier this year, at 30 percent. Former state Rep. Matt Entenza, who, like Dayton, has self-funded extensively, is a distant third at 17 percent.

In the general election, Dayton would start with a 10-point lead on state Rep. Tom Emmer, who is a heavy favorite to win the Republican nomination. Dayton leads Emmer,40 percent to 30 percent. Kelliher's lead over Emmer is similar -- 38 percent to 29 percent.

The poll suggests Entenza hasn't gotten much traction despite self-funding and spending even more than Dayton thus far. Entenza's campaign noted the margin of error on the primary sample is nearly 8 percent because of the small sample size and that a race with such low turnout -- as is expected next week -- is very difficult to poll.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

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