Sen. Michael Bennet fends off primary challenge in Colorado

Voters cast ballots for self-proclaimed "outsiders" on a four-state primary day. Meanwhile the hotly-contested Georgia republican gubernatorial nomination is too close to call and a runoff is likely.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado turned back a sharp challenge from former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff on Tuesday night on a busy day of primaries that offered fresh clues about the anti-establishment mood of voters and the strength of the "tea party" movement.

Bennet's victory came after a nasty and often personal campaign between a political novice-turned-senator and a legislative-insider-turned-insurgent. His victory provided a welcome boost to President Obama, who had put his prestige and the muscle of his political organization behind Bennet's candidacy.

In the state's fiercely contested Republican Senate primary, Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck, a favorite of tea party activists, defeated former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, the choice of the GOP establishment in Colorado and Washington.

The Colorado races were the marquee events on a day that also included competitive statewide contests in Georgia, Connecticut and Minnesota.

Bennet's challenge was seen as the latest test of anti-incumbent sentiment in a year in which two senators and four House members have been defeated. His victory proved that the benefits and resources of incumbency can offset the liabilities that many officeholders are carrying this year. The Buck-Norton race once again highlighted the power and influence of tea party activists to challenge the GOP establishment.

In Connecticut, former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive Linda McMahon claimed the Republican Senate nomination, easily winning a three-way primary that included former congressman Rob Simmons. She captured almost half the vote over her opponents.

McMahon, who has spent about $20 million and is prepared to spend millions more to win the seat of retiring Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D), will face state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who captured the Democratic nomination, in November in a race that will pit an outsider against a longtime insider.

In Georgia, former congressman Nathan Deal led former secretary of state Karen Handel in a runoff election for the Republican nomination for governor. Deal led Handel by 2,500 votes, or 0.4 percent of the vote, but both candidates were awaiting the counting of provisional, overseas and military ballots.

The Georgia race was notable for the competition it sparked among potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin backed Handel as one of her "mama grizzlies," and Handel also had the support of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Deal countered with former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

The winner will face former governor Roy Barnes -- who was defeated for reelection in 2002 -- in November in the race to succeed retiring Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), who is term-limited.

The Democratic Senate primary in Colorado underscored how much candidates this year are seeking to run away from Washington. Throughout the campaign, Bennet and Romanoff tried to outdo each other to demonstrate their distaste for the capital and its political culture.

Bennet, who was appointed to the Senate to replace Ken Salazar when he was named interior secretary, enjoyed strong support from Obama and the national Democratic establishment. But Romanoff's support from liberal activists, an endorsement from Bill Clinton and aggressive negative ads put Bennet on the defensive and party leaders on edge.

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