Colorado’s Senate Race: How Big is the Bill Factor?

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Former President Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Andrew Romanoff in Colorado’s Aug. 10 Democratic Senate primary sent shock waves through the media this afternoon. Clinton’s decision to buck the White House — which is backing sitting Sen. Michael Bennet — and support Romanoff’s underdog bid is the sort of juicy morsel pundits feast on. The Obama Administration was apparently high enough on Bennet, a former businessman and Denver schools chief who was appointed to the seat vacated by outgoing Sen. Ken Salazar last year, to dangle a possible administration job in front of Romanoff as a way to sidestep a bruising primary challenge in a toss-up state. Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Ben Smith point to Bill’s break with the Administration as “proof that whatever the public perception may be of a united front between President Barack Obama and the former president, Clinton remains very much his own man – and his own political force.”

“I was proud to carry Colorado in 1992, but you should be even prouder of what Andrew Romanoff did to turn the state blue,” Clinton wrote in a letter to supporters. “He worked harder than anyone in Colorado to put Democrats in positions of power – and to use that power to benefit every single citizen.” The Centennial State, Clinton added, “is far better off because of Andrew Romanoff’s leadership. America will be too.”

But while the announcement has grabbed headlines, its impact on the race itself may be largely symbolic. Buoyed by the backing of Obama and Colorado’s senior Senator Mark Udall, Bennett has run an outsider’s campaign from within the friendly confines of the Democratic establishment. By April, he had amassed a war chest of more than $6.2 million, far outpacing Romanoff’s fund-raising tally. A recent poll showed Romanoff lagging behind Bennet by nearly 20 points. In an interview with Time.com’s Adam Sorensen, Romanoff called the endorsement “very welcome news,” and said he expected it to “accelerate our momentum.” But he doesn’t seem to have had all that much of it, and Clinton is not planning to stump or fundraise for Romanoff.

The White House seems largely unruffled by the news. Asked during Tuesday’s briefing whether he was amused, dismayed or infuriated by the announcement, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs chose option D: “None of the above.” Bennett’s camp also downplayed the incident, noting that Romanoff supported Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. “The Clinton’s [sic] are known for their loyalty, so this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Michael certainly doesn’t begrudge President Clinton the chance to thank a long time friend,” spokesman Trevor Kincaid said in a statement.

Clinton remains the party’s most effective surrogate, a quality he demonstrated last month by helping Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln turn back a primary threat of her own. That may make his decision to stray from the reservation — one in which his wife occupies a prime Cabinet slot — more than a little disconcerting for Obama’s advisers. But the announcement is unlikely to reshape the race, which may be why the former president felt comfortable stepping into it in the first place.

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