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.
Three days after Andrew Romanoff spoke to the recovering addicts on the Capitol steps, he headed to Broomfield to speak to several thousand Democratic junkies at the state assembly. Now, these were Romanoff's people, the hardcore party activists willing to drive half a day from Durango just to rub elbows with elected officials. Outside, hundreds of his blue signs bedecked the grounds of Broomfield's 1st Bank Center. Earlier, Romanoff's people had sent out a newsletter dubbing the campaign's increasing energy "Romentum."
The state assembly is a bizarre event, a sort of grown-up pep rally for the folks who want to relive their high school student council elections. Despite the fact that their votes ultimately decide little—candidates can bypass the state assembly by gathering 10,500 signatures—the state assembly-goers take their duties seriously, donning T-shirts in support of their favorite candidates, wearing stickers, and waving signs. Many years, there are a number of primary battles, but this year, there was only one serious fight: Romanoff versus Bennet.
After a series of speeches from Governor Ritter and John Hickenlooper, along with several rah-rah videos on the Jumbotron, it was Romanoff time. He was introduced by a slick video showing childhood pictures and touting his accomplishments. When it was over, his fans waved blue signs and chanted "Andrew! Andrew!" Suddenly, Romanoff was running down the middle of the stadium aisle, backed by hundreds of followers waving blue signs. You could almost feel the Romentum.
Taking the stage, backed by supporters and family, Romanoff acknowledged his party's situation. "Whatever sticker you're wearing today, let's make sure that we are all wearing the same sticker on August 11th and unite behind the nominee. That is my pledge to you. I respect my opponent. I will support him if he wins our party's nomination. And I will ask you to do exactly the same." The crowd clapped and yelled. This, after all, is their primary fear: that the two Democrats will tear each other down and let the Republican candidate (Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck or former lieutenant governor Jane Norton) coast into office. On the way into the event, a middle-aged gentleman wearing a Bennet shirt had expressed exactly that concern: "Two of the most talented young Democrats are running against each other."
A week earlier, Democratic voters in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, where Sestak won, had voted against establishment candidates; Romanoff spared no time in comparing himself to them. "The voters in Arkansas and Pennsylvania sent a loud and clear message to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night—and we should, too. The message to our own party is this: Stiffen your spine—or step out of the way."
It was Romanoff's big moment; a snappy, punchy, memorable line that was picked up in the press and became the campaign's motto. (He would repeat it during an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, in which he looked anxious enough to puke, and a couple of weeks later, the campaign named their used van the "Backbone Express.") His speech was rousing and populist, condemning corporate interests and special interest groups—and, by connection, Bennet. (On one campaign flier, Romanoff self-identifies as "The Best Senator Money Can't Buy.") Romanoff didn't promise pork for the constituents, but instead pledged seismic political change, starting with his candidacy. This is a man who wants to fix Darfur and Central America, who wants to raise up the poor, who wants to stop the wars abroad by the power of his own intellect and problem-solving skills.
"Join this cause, and we can reshape politics and restore public trust," he told the crowd. "We can turn America into what it once was, and what it can be again: a source not of cowardice or complacency or despair, but of courage and confidence and determination. Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Stand with me now, and I will lead this ticket. Stand with me now, and I will hold this seat. Stand with me now, and I will always, always stand with you."