Skip to content

Mountain: One Bennett Lost, But Will the Other Bennet?


Filing Deadline: May 27 | Primary: Aug. 10


Incumbent: Michael Bennet (D)
1st term (appointed January 2009)
Outlook: Tossup

Competitive primaries have developed in both parties for the seat Bennet is defending for the first time since his surprise appointment 16 months ago.

Bennet faces a serious challenger in former Colorado Speaker Andrew Romanoff, whose populist-tinged campaign is predicated on what he sees as the corrupting influence of corporate campaign contributions. He has suggested that political contributions have influenced some of Bennet’s votes — a charge the Senator denies.

Though Romanoff outperformed Bennet at a March caucus of party activists, the challenger hasn’t yet shown he can parlay that backing from Colorado Democratic insiders into the kind of well-funded campaign that can topple Bennet, a cash-rich candidate who began airing television ads immediately after the caucuses. The Senator is running with the backing of President Barack Obama, whose priorities Bennet by and large supports, and labor unions and progressive groups like his voting record.

On the Republican side, what party officials originally anticipated as an easy win for former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton has instead become a competitive race with Ken Buck, a county prosecutor from northern Colorado who has support from tea party activists. Buck narrowly edged Norton at the March caucuses; a few weeks later Norton retooled her campaign staff.

Former state Sen. Tom Wiens is the third major Republican candidate in the race.


4th district
Incumbent: Betsy Markey (D)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Markey two years ago had the advantage of running in ideal political conditions for a Democrat and against a flawed Republican incumbent, Marilyn Musgrave. Markey’s quest for a second term will no doubt be a more difficult undertaking.

Markey’s November opponent almost certainly will be Cory Gardner, a young state Representative who serves as Minority Whip. Gardner, the preferred candidate of the National Republican Congressional Committee, faces minimal opposition for the GOP nod.

Republicans have made clear that they will make Markey’s vote for the new health care law a major issue in the fall campaign. Markey opposed a preliminary version last fall.

That vote carried some political risk but also helped Markey boost her campaign treasury with contributions from grateful Democrats. She raised more than half a million dollars in the first three months of this year, more than nearly every other member of in the group of 40-odd vulnerable “Frontline” members, and she began April with more than $1.25 million left to spend.


Filing deadline: Passed | Primary: May 25


Incumbent: Mike Crapo (R)
2nd term (99 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Few Senators are as politically ensconced as Crapo, who didn’t even face a Democratic opponent six years ago in one of the nation’s most Republican states. Crapo has one minor primary opponent and will prevail easily in November, over either small-business man Tom Sullivan or lawyer William Bryk, who are seeking the Democratic nod.


1st district
Incumbent: Walt Minnick (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Republicans will decide next week which of two very different candidates will oppose Minnick, whose western Idaho district is one of the most conservative in the nation to be held by a Democrat.

Vaughn Ward, a former CIA officer and 2008 campaign aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has long been the favorite of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He’s trying to fend of a late-starting but aggressive effort from state Rep. Raul Labrador, who is portraying the primary as a battle between a candidate of the establishment and a candidate of the activists.

Ward’s long-running campaign and fundraising edge help explain why he began the GOP race as the favorite. But Labrador campaign officials insist he is closing the gap, in part because of some unfavorable publicity for Ward related to his finances.

Minnick’s defeat two years ago of then-Rep. Bill Sali in an ideal Democratic environment and in such a right-leaning district make him an obvious target of the Republicans. But Minnick’s voting record, easily the most conservative among House Democrats, and a sizable campaign treasury make unseating him easier said than done.


Filing Deadline: Passed | Primary: June 8


Incumbent: Denny Rehberg (R)
5th term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

As he makes his sixth House run, Rehberg is navigating uncharted waters: He’s never before had a primary challenger, and this cycle he has two.

Despite a 90 percent lifetime voting rating from the American Conservative Union, “All of a sudden I look like the moderate,” he told a local paper. Running to Rehberg’s left is self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” A.J. Otjen; running on his far right is microbiologist Mark French, who describes himself as a constitutional Republican.

Neither is in Rehberg’s league financially.

Running in the Democratic primary are: lawyer Tyler Gernant, former state party Chairman Dennis McDonald, real estate broker Sam Rankin and writer Melinda Gopher. But in a favorable Republican year, none of them are positioned to oust Rehberg, who had $731,000 in the bank as of March 31 and may be eyeing a Senate run in 2012.


Filing deadline: Passed | Nominating convention: Passed | Primary: June 22


Open seat: Sen. Bob Bennett (R) was defeated at the nominating convention
Outlook: Safe Republican

Bennett saw his Senate career come crashing down in early May when he failed to qualify for the GOP primary by finishing out of the top two spots at the party nominating convention.

While he was twice re-elected with ease after winning in 1992, Bennett found himself on the wrong side of tea party activists and the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth this cycle in the wake of his efforts to help pass the Wall Street bailout bill in 2008. Those groups painted him as a “Republican in name only” who had been in Washington too long and had become too willing to work with Democrats.

And while Bennett had a hefty war chest, powerful connections and near-universal name identification, his detractors found in Utah’s unusual nomination convention a powerful way to channel their displeasure.

Bennett finished behind businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee, who will square off in a primary that is expected to decide who the next Senator will be. Bennett could still run as a write-in candidate in November, an idea he has not yet closed the door to.

Bridgewater has deep pockets. As of mid-April he had self-funded nearly $340,000 of the $380,000 in total campaign receipts he reported to the Federal Election Commission.

One statewide poll released in early May showed that Lee performed better among the entire GOP primary electorate.

Immediately after Bennett failed to make the GOP primary, Lee earned an endorsement from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a well-known conservative champion who has waded into several primaries this year with his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee.


2nd district
Incumbent: Jim Matheson (D)
5th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Matheson is the only Democrat in the Utah delegation, and in such a conservative state he always faces the potential of a competitive general election.

But before he can look to November, the Congressman will have to face down his first-ever primary after retired teacher Claudia Wright took 45 percent at the state Democratic nominating convention to keep Matheson from winning the nomination outright.

Party activists have been particularly upset with the Blue Dog Congressman’s high-profile votes against key Democratic initiatives like the cap-and-trade bill and the health care reform bills.

Matheson has a healthy campaign account of more than $1.4 million and shouldn’t have a hard time drowning out Wright. She had just $9,000 in the bank in mid-April.

Morgan Philpot won the Republican nomination outright at the GOP convention. Philpot is a former state Representative who didn’t shown much strength on the fundraising front leading up to the convention.

At this point it’s difficult to see Matheson losing.


Filing deadline: May 28 | Primary: Aug. 17


Incumbent: Cynthia Lummis (R)
1st term (53 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Anti-incumbent sentiment shouldn’t hurt Lummis, a freshman who seems headed for an easy ride to re-election in one of the nation’s most Republican states.

John McCain carried Wyoming with 65 percent of the vote. Lummis, a reliable vote for the GOP, also has the advantage of being a familiar face to voters, since she formerly was state treasurer.

Democrats have fielded David Wendt, co-founder of a Jackson Hole-based environmental think tank, as their sacrificial lamb.

Recent Stories

These Democrats have called on Biden to quit the race

Gaffe track — Congressional Hits and Misses

Trump’s presidential office hours were the shortest since FDR, Biden’s not far behind him

Biden admits other Democrats could beat Trump, but sends potential rivals a message

Photos of the week ending July 12, 2024

At high-stakes news conference, Biden calls Harris ‘Vice President Trump’