LOVELAND, Colo. — Colorado's campaign season has politicians from both parties trying to show themselves as outcasts and rebels, with no one showing that they want to be the favorite.
Politicians from both parties, no matter how long they've been in office or how deep their fundraising prowess, are scrambling to be seen as outsiders.
As Colorado's Democratic and Republican parties gather this weekend to narrow primary fields for races this year, most prominently an open governor's race and a Senate contest, candidates from both sides are sounding similar campaign themes.
Days after primary voters in other states rejected incumbents and party insiders, Colorado's slate is promising change, vowing to confront a Congress with basement approval ratings and depicting themselves as outsider reformers with a populist bent.
Wondering why no one wants to be the favorite? Spend some time on the campaign trail.
"Everyone's saying, 'We're mad as hell and we're not taking it anymore,'" said one Republican voter, 56-year-old physician Kevin Lindell of Fort Morgan. Lindell voiced opinions shared by many primary voters from both parties while waiting to meet a Republican Senate candidate — "We've got to sweep some folks out and sweep some better ones in."
It's a common opinion and one that has all candidates scrambling to be seen as reformers. Freshman Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, openly derides his colleagues in the Senate and boasts about how little he understands how Congress works. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Romanoff, says he's the true reformer and accuses Bennet of being too cozy with moneyed contributors.
It's a similar story on the GOP side. Leading the money race is former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. Norton is the only candidate in the entire Senate slate who has won statewide, but her stump speech focuses on vows to "take our country back" and stand up to ruling Democrats in Washington. She doesn't mention her own Washington connections, including a borther-in-law, Charlie Black, who advised 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
One of Norton's opponents, Ken Buck, drives a rented Ford to meet voters and often shows up to campaign events wearing jeans. When Buck stopped by a conservative talk radio station in Steamboat Springs for a recent interview, the hosts remarked on Buck's well-worn boots. The prosecutor assured them he's seen worse muck than just politics.
"I'm from Greeley," Buck quipped about his hometown known for foul-smelling cattle pens. "That's not mud."
As the candidates spar over who is most authentic and best able to tap into voter unease this fall, party members will try to whittle down slates for the Aug. 10 primaries. Among the contests:
—Democrats are choosing between Bennet, who was appointed to the seat last year, and Romanoff, a former state House Speaker. Romanoff came out ahead in caucus straw polls and county assemblies earlier this spring but trails in fundraising to Bennet, who has the backing of President Barack Obama. Bennet was hoping to garner the needed 30 percent of party delegates to make primary ballots in August; just in case, the incumbent had petitions lined up to backstop his campaign.
—On the Republican side, Norton, Buck and at least two more Republicans are vying for the chance to challenge for the seat. That battle will likely wait until August, though. Norton opted out of the assembly and will petition onto ballots, giving Buck a clear path to top billing on the GOP ballot.
—Republicans were prepping for another contest for governor, where former Rep. Scott McInnis was hoping to clear businessman Dan Maes from the field. Democrats have only one candidate for governor, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Current Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter is not seeking re-election.
—Republicans were narrowing fields to challenge incumbent House Democrats, including Reps. Betsy Markey in northern Colorado and Ed Perlmutter in the Denver suburbs. The only two Republicans in Congress from Colorado, Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman, face little serious Democratic opposition.