Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the state House and a once rising political star, wants to be a U.S. senator. And there’s nothing Governor Ritter, the state Democratic Party establishment, or the White House can do about it. If he costs his party the big one and torpedoes his career along the way, well, that’s democracy.
Candidate Romanoff has been scampering around the state, speaking to organizations like Neck-Lace-4-Life, a crocheting group in Lafayette; Grounds to Ground, a coffee-roasting business; Odell Brewing Company; Monroe Organic Farms; and at events like the Furry Scurry walk in Washington Park and the Juneteenth Caribbean American Heritage Festival in Colorado Springs. Short a speaker for a luncheon? Office birthday party? Bar mitzvah? Romanoff might be your guy.
He campaigns endlessly not because he loves speaking to crowds—although he does—but out of necessity. His opponent in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate is Michael Bennet, a man well-connected in business, education, and Washington, D.C. He ran Denver Public Schools and the mayor's office, helped direct business turnaround efforts for Phil Anschutz's Regal Entertainment Group, and worked in the Clinton administration. He's been endorsed by pretty much Colorado's entire Democratic establishment: Governor Bill Ritter; Mayor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Senator Mark Udall; U.S. Representatives Jared Polis, John Salazar, and Betsy Markey. Oh, and President Barack Obama. Romanoff has the support of the majority of Democrats in the state Legislature and many mayors across the state. The only local boldface-name endorsement he's earned is from Cary Kennedy, the state treasurer—and she used to work for him. Nationally, Romanoff's got Bill Clinton's endorsement. Then there's the money: Bennet has raised nearly $7.4 million for the August 10 primary and the general election in November. After running ads for a couple of months, Bennet increased his lead among Democratic voters from a tight six points to a considerable cushion of 15 points.
If Romanoff's got a chance, he has to ignore the establishment, forget about money, bang on more doors, make more phone calls, and speak to anyone who will listen. Which isn't really a problem. This is a guy who ran for the Democratic National Committee—the party's governing body—before his 30th birthday, at a time when his peers were doing beer bongs and taking off weekdays to get first dibs on fresh powder. Romanoff's spent the past 15 years getting to know Democrats in every town between Kansas and Utah. "If you could run for the U.S. Senate by knocking on doors, the people who would run and win—they'd make different decisions in office," he says. "A lot of people never take a look at a race for the Senate because they don't have the connections or the resources." He's a natural. On stage, Romanoff is Obama to Bennet's Ben Stein—charismatic, practiced, and moving. But even the most talented speaker can't always connect with a crowd.
The Recovery at the Capitol audience isn't much interested in politics. Romanoff wraps up, as he often does, with a reference to Robert F. Kennedy's groundbreaking speech on South Africa's apartheid: "He said, 'Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.'" Romanoff's voice builds to a crescendo, like he genuinely believes he is that ripple of hope. "We've lost a bit of the spark that Robert F. Kennedy had, but we can bring it back. Those ripples start here and now!"
The crowd applauds politely. Nearly everyone in the audience is marked with a number. On upper arms, they have written in black marker: 403 days. 23 days. 6,056 days. 248 days. Each signifies a stretch of sobriety, consecutive days free of whatever addiction—drugs, alcohol. Romanoff waves to the crowd, descends the West Steps, and starts shaking more hands, campaigning like he can't help himself. Andrew Romanoff, political junkie: 0 days.