Behind the Romanoff 'Surge'

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I suppose I should put the disclosure at the top: Sen. Michael Bennet is the brother of James Bennet, the Atlantic's editor.

Why at the top? Because the state of the Colorado Senate Democratic primary is not accurately being reported.

Plenty of polls have showed Bennet leading Romanoff narrowly. In June, SurveyUSA found that Bennet had a 17 point lead -- the only poll ever to show him with anything resembling that kind of margin.  Now SurveyUSA has Romanoff ahead by several points. It's a surge...providing you ignore the numerous public polls, both internal and public, that have shown a close race for months. SurveyUSA uses automation to conduct polls, which automatically makes it suspect for many consultants and analysts.  (The jury is still out for me.)  Romanoff has inched upward in he past few weeks: he's been on the air all the time thanks to money he got from selling his house, and he was endorsed by Bill Clinton.

Romanoff is a well-known and well-liked commodity among Colorado Democrats, having ably served as Speaker of the House. Bennet faces several distinct disadvantages that Romanoff has been able to exploit, including his ties to Washington, his lack of connection to Democratic voters, and the fact that he was a business consultant.

Bennet has kept the race competitive, even leading, by working hard: he's made the rounds of the state and hasn't done anything to offend any key constituency. He comes off as  thoughtful and progressive. Among party activists, though, he's seen as the guy who got lucky, having been tapped by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill a vacated Senate seat over the resumes of several candidates progressive groups were more comfortable with.

Bennet's campaign maintains that they're in a solid position heading into next week's primary, having plenty of money (he loaned himself $300,000 today) and a good field operation that is meeting its early vote targets. Whether he benefits from a last minute television endorsement from Barack Obama is unclear -- does that distract people from Bennet's branding as an independent pragmatist?

Romanoff has anti-establishment populism and some key union endorsements. His ads have been tough -- even a little misleading. The primary is going to be close -- it was always going to be close.

If Bennet loses, it'll be a bad news cycle for Bob Menendez, the head of the DSCC, for Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff was in contact with Romanoff about an administration position Romanoff wanted, and for Ritter. But Romanoff is more than capable of winning the general election, so national Democrats won't be terribly worried.  Republicans Ken Buck and Jane Norton are running far-right campaigns in what fundamentally remains a purple state.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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