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.
From day one, Romanoff's campaign has seemed uncharacteristically half-baked. He lost his top campaign adviser, Sue Casey, only two months after the campaign launched. He failed to replace her for a month, a time during which he barely registered on the political scene. In mid-December, the Denver Post published a column titled "Candidate Romanoff has yet to show up for Senate fight." In January, after Ritter announced he wasn't going to run for reelection, there was widespread speculation that Romanoff might switch races—speculation that he stoked when he called a press conference. Instead, he announced that he was recommitting to the Senate race—as if he needed to remind people that he was still running.
In February, shortly after he brought on Jimmy Carter pollster Pat Caddell, Romanoff discarded him after videos surfaced of Caddell calling union members "thugs." Staff turnover was endemic. In the first seven months of the campaign, Romanoff employed four different spokespeople. There was a small scandal: In the middle of April, the Post reported that Romanoff's website campaign banner had been Photoshopped to include a black woman closer to the candidate. Then came the national scandal.
In May, U.S. Representative Joe Sestak confirmed that the Obama administration had offered him a spot on a senior advisory board if he dropped out of the Senate race in Pennsylvania, and all eyes turned to Romanoff. Months earlier, the Post had reported that the White House made overtures to Romanoff to drop out. Romanoff deflected questions. When I asked him about the job offers at the end of May, all he would offer was a "No comment." He considered the question a distraction. "I'm focused on this race and moving forward."
A natural on stage, Romanoff can be defensive in person, better at selling policy than himself. He exhibits a journalist's reticence—he was the editor-in-chief at the Yale Daily News—for talking about himself. Romanoff gives the impression that he's either suspicious of where the conversation is headed or that he's just not very introspective. A seemingly simple question, like why he doesn't go by his first name—which is Harlan—is met with near hostility. "Lots of people go by their middle names," he says, shifting in his chair. Or, when asked how he felt about being passed over by Governor Ritter, he answers, "It's not a story that serves a useful purpose."
Romanoff hasn't done anything in his life if it wasn't useful and purposeful, if it wasn't both altruistic and pragmatic. The son of a Republican prosecutor and a Democratic social worker—who divorced when he was a teen—Romanoff was raised in Ohio with his twin sister, Hilary. A gifted student, he left the Midwest for Yale, where he majored in American studies and spent a lot of his time at the Yale Daily News. In an international economic development class, he read Inside the Third World: The Anatomy of Poverty, a vivid book about the impoverished in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It married three of his interests—journalism, poverty, and travel—and was a source of inspiration for him to travel to Nicaragua to teach English after graduation.
He was astounded by Nicaragua's poverty. "The families who I lived with in Nicaragua were in the deepest poverty," he says today. "It revealed a world that was dramatically different from my own. Some little kid growing up in Nicaragua may want to be an astronaut or scientist or poet, but will not be any of those things. He'll just be lucky to eke out a living. There's something profoundly unfair and disturbing about a world where kids' dreams are deferred or dry up just because of the luck of the draw. It doesn't seem right to me."
When Romanoff returned from Central America, he enrolled at the London School of Economics in political science. His term was cut short by appendicitis. He transferred to Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he earned a master's in public policy. In 1993, Romanoff moved to Colorado, lured by its beauty, and—Romanoff being Romanoff—its strategic location halfway between his divorced parents. One of his first jobs was at consulting firm Greenberg Baron Simon & Miller, where he worked on business development and research. He distinguished himself as a creative thinker and a strong writer but bored quickly of consulting. While at GBSM, he started moving in Democratic circles, and in 1997, he joined the administration of Governor Roy Romer.