And the Winner Is…

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Anyone hoping for a sign that the anti-establishment fever has peaked got mixed messages from Colorado’s Senate primaries Tuesday night.

On the Democratic side, establishment favorite Michael Bennet won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, beating out former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff with 54% of the vote with 77% of precincts reporting. This is Bennet’s first electoral win ever, despite the fact that he’s held the seat for nearly two years; the former superintendent of Denver schools was named by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill Ken Salazar’s term when President Obama named Salazar Interior Secretary.

On the Republican side, though, the upstart took the day with Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck beating the establishment favorite Lt. Gov. Jane Norton with 52% of the vote with 75% of the precincts reporting. Buck enjoyed the support of the Tea Party groups and benefitted from Norton’s mismanaged campaign. Buck had seem to falter a bit in the final weeks of campaigning, but that did not prevent him from eking out a close victory over Norton, for whom Senator John McCain campaigned in the final week.

Despite being a Senate newbie, Bennet had risked joining two long term incumbent senators, Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter and Utah Republican Bob Bennett, whose scalps were claimed by this year’s throw-the-bums-out climate. As fellow Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, did in June, Bennet pulled out a hard fought victory. Romanoff had seemed to surge in recent weeks. After he won the state convention and pulled ahead for the first time in a Denver Post poll, Romanoff sold his $325,000 home and liquidated his savings in order to pay for a final surge of advertising. But, perhaps his biggest boost came in late June when former President Bill Clinton endorsed him; Romanoff was a longtime Clinton ally who’d worked on Clinton’s ’92 and ’96 campaigns and endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries.

Many reporters, myself included in last week’s dead tree edition of TIME, remarked on the Clinton v. Obama aspect of this race. Clinton has been quite popular on the campaign trail this cycle and was considered pivotal in Lincoln’s surprise victory. Obama has been held more at arm’s length by many candidates seeking to distance themselves from the twin hangovers of the stimulus bill and health care reform. But Bennet had been one of the few candidates who’d leaned heavily on Obama’s help in ads, fundraising, automated calls and appearances. Even before the breaking news alert came out, Organizing for America — the remnants of the Obama campaign housed at the Democratic National Committee — sent out a triumphant email boasting of their work on Bennet’s behalf.

OFA volunteers have been engaging their neighbors around today’s election both on the phones and on the doors.
– OFA has hosted 83 canvasses, phone banks, and other events since July 9 to educate voters about the importance of electing Senator Bennet to continue serving Colorado this November.
– Since June 1, OFA volunteers and staff have made nearly 47,000 calls and knocked nearly 14,000 doors in support of Senator Bennet. In the past four days alone, OFA volunteers and staff in Colorado have made 11,500 calls and knocked nearly 3,500 doors on behalf of Senator Bennet.
– Through OFA, 1,533 volunteers have taken action to show their support for Senator Bennet.
– Since July 12, OFA has sent seven different emails to Coloradans urging supporters to vote for Bennet, attend a canvass, or take part in a phone bank to make sure voters cast their ballots for Senator Bennet.

Buck and Bennet enter the general election pretty much tied in polls, though Bennet has $1.8 million cash-on-hand advantage to Buck’s $440,000.

In Colorado’s GOP primary for the governor’s mansion the race remained too close to call by the time I filed this with Rep. Scott McInnis in a deadheat with businessman Dan Maes. Colorado wasn’t the only state holding primaries tonight. Georgia’s run off for the GOP nomination for governor was also neck-in-neck, with former Rep. Nathan Deal slightly ahead of Sarah Palin Mama Grizzly Secretary of State Karen Handel. And in Connecticut, World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon cruised to an easy victory over former Rep. Rob Simmons in the GOP primary to replace retiring Senator Chris Dodd.

Update 1:
Maes defeated McInnis to claim Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

Update 2:
Handel concedes, handing Deal the GOP nomination for the Peach State’s governor’s mansion.