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Obama Facing Bill Clinton by Proxy in Colorado Senate Primary

President Obama, right, with Senator Michael Bennet
Senator Michael Bennet shakes hands with US President Barack Obama following a grassroots fundraiser for Bennet. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama’s influence among Democrats will be tested today in a primary in Colorado, where his party is fighting to keep a U.S. Senate seat likely critical to its control of the chamber.

No other Democratic contest this year has drawn as much involvement from Obama, who is backing Senator Michael Bennet. The incumbent’s opponent, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, is supported by former President Bill Clinton.

The Republican primary pits a Tea Party favorite against a candidate supported by the national party leadership, while a race for the party’s gubernatorial nomination features a plagiarism scandal. Connecticut and Minnesota also hold primaries today, and Georgia has a run-off contest selecting the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Bennet, appointed after Obama named then-Senator Ken Salazar as Interior Department secretary, has relied on White House help throughout the primary. Reflecting Obama’s below 50 percent approval rating in polls, Bennet isn’t sure he wants such help should he advance to the general election campaign.

Obama “came and raised money earlier in the year, and we’ll make a judgment in the fall about whether it’s helpful to the general or whether it’s not,” Bennet said in an interview last month when asked if he wants the president to keep campaigning for him.

Obama’s Efforts

One of Obama’s first 2010 fundraising stops was for Bennet. The president has also made telephone calls for him, appeared in television ads and spoke to voters in an electronic town-hall-style meeting.

Obama aides tried to keep Romanoff, 43, from challenging Bennet by raising the prospect of an administration job. Bennet, 45, a former Denver schools superintendent, had never held an elected office and was unknown to many Coloradans before the Senate appointment.

Romanoff, who supported Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination against Obama, was endorsed June 29 by her husband, Bill Clinton, who has lent his name to Romanoff’s fundraising efforts.

The prospect that Democrats could lose the Colorado seat is one reason analysts give Republicans a chance at winning a Senate majority in November’s election. The seat is among 13 rated as tossups by the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

Republican Race

Like the Democratic contest, the Republican Senate primary encapsulates the tumult marking a campaign season in which two senators and four U.S. House members have lost re-nomination bids in other states.

Vying for the Republican nomination are Ken Buck, 51, a county prosecutor backed by Tea Party activists promoting significantly limited government, and former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, 55, who is supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The two have battled over who is more worthy of being classified an “outsider” committed to changing Washington. Buck also drew attention last month when he said one reason he deserved support was that he wears cowboy boots, rather than high heels. The Norton campaign has spotlighted that comment, believing it will help her win votes from women.

Early Balloting

Voting started last month in much of Colorado in counties with mail-in balloting. That could prove helpful to Bennet, who last week was put on the defensive when the New York Times reported that a 2008 pension fund refinancing he encouraged as the Denver schools chief cost the education system at least $25 million more than anticipated. The school district may renegotiate the deal at a potential cost of $81 million in bank termination fees.

In Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial primary, former U.S. Representative Scott McInnis has been hurt by charges of plagiarism that prompted calls from some party members for his exit from the race. The allegations, which he disputes, focus on a report on water rights he delivered as part of a $300,000 fellowship.

McInnis faces businessman Dan Maes in the primary. The winner will compete against Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, to fill the post being vacated by Democrat Bill Ritter. Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman, has announced he will run for the seat as the American Constitution Party candidate.

Connecticut, Georgia

In Connecticut’s primary, polls show former World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chief Executive Office Linda McMahon the front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination. Also on the ballot are former Representative Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff, president of Westport, Connecticut-based Euro Pacific Capital.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination to fill the seat of retiring Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Democrat.

In Connecticut’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, 2006 Senate candidate Ned Lamont squares off against former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy. Among Republicans, Lieutenant Governor Mike Fedele faces Tom Foley, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

In Georgia, Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, is opposed by former Representative Nathan Deal in a runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Handel was endorsed by Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee; Deal is backed by one of the party’s White House candidates that year, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The winner will compete against Democrat Roy Barnes, a former governor.

In Minnesota, four Democrats and four Republicans are competing for the governorship being vacated by Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

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