Appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet prevailed in his first-ever election Tuesday, surviving a late round of attacks from primary challenger Andrew Romanoff. He will face Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a favorite of Colorado tea party activists, in the general election.
Bennet's victory, aided by the White House and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spares him from becoming the latest incumbent to fall in a primary.
With all precincts reporting late Tuesday, Bennet led Romanoff, 54 percent to 46 percent. Romanoff performed well in the state's urban enclaves of Denver and Boulder, but Bennet won nearly everywhere else.
"We're in fighting shape now, and any opponent who stands against us will have a heck of a time staring down our unified front of Coloradans," Bennet wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
The Bennet campaign spent early and often to educate Democratic voters about their candidate, and it was helped along by President Obama and the DSCC. Bennet may also have been helped by Colorado's new mail-in voting system, as the majority of ballots were cast before Romanoff really caught momentum in the final days of the campaign.
In the primary's final weeks, Romanoff labeled Bennet as an insider who as too cozy with Wall Street types - allegations fueled by a recent New York Times story reporting that Bennet cost the Denver school system millions of dollars as school superintendent. Former President Clinton endorsed Romanoff early on and made robo-calls on his behalf.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine will be in Denver today to headline a party unity event to rally the base heading into the general election, where Romanoff will be backing Bennet.
On the Republican side, Buck defeated former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, the GOP establishment favorite, 52 percent to 48 percent. The National Republican Senatorial Committee recruited Norton and aided her campaign, but she ran into trouble this spring when she faced a bevy of outside pro-Buck groups that labeled her insufficiently conservative.
Norton further angered the grassroots by skipping the GOP convention in May, where Buck was the easy victor. Buck used the momentum of the convention and the money of outside conservative groups backing him to surge into a summer lead.