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Colorado Primaries: Bennet v. Romanoff, Buck v. Norton to Be Decided Today

Michael Bennet, Andrew Romanoff, Jane Norton, Ken Buck
From Left: Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Andrew Romanoff, Jane Norton, Ken Buck CBS

Colorado's Republican and Democratic Senate primaries today are full of the drama and intrigue that's characterized many primaries this season. There's a strong anti-establishment/incumbent mood, Tea Party power is at play, and anti-Washington sentiment in what could cause the sixth incumbent to lose their job in a primary this year.

Republicans have had their sights on taking this Colorado Senate seat back for the GOP, but incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet's first challenge is to survive the primary. Bennet was appointed to this seat in 2009 by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter. He'd previously had little political experience, but was Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Bennet's primary opponent is former Speaker of the Colorado House Andrew Romanoff, who says he expects to be the Democratic nominee for Senate when the results are in.

Interactive Map: CBS News Election 2010 Race Ratings

While Bennet's benefitted from fundraisers and support from President Obama and the DSCC, Romanoff's been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton. He's sold his house to help fund his campaign and enjoys a great deal of support from local Democrats. Bennet's been playing defense in the last stage of the campaign after the New York Times published an article on Friday revealing that Bennet took a risky move negotiated with J.P. Morgan Chase in 2008 to plug a $400 million gap in their teacher pension fund when he was still Denver's Superintendent.

When asked by CBS News correspondent Bob Orr if he considers himself an outsider, Romanoff took a dig at his opponent by referencing what critics consider a lack of transparency in the big debates in Congress over the past two years.

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Romanoff said on "Washington Unplugged" yesterday. "The legislature I led here as Speaker of the House conducted its work in the open." (watch the video at left)

A recent Denver Post poll, conducted before the New York Times story, found the two Democratic candidates neck and neck.

The Republican race to take on Bennet, or Romanoff, has also sparked national attention.

Former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton is the establishment pick, but Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has a lead on Norton according to the same Denver Post poll. Norton's had the support of Sen. John McCain who campaigned for her over the weekend, but Buck has some Tea Party backing despite the fact that he called some of them "dumbasses."

Buck is really the reason for so much interest in this race at this point. The Tea Party comment was made when he said to tell them to stop asking about birth certificates when he's in front of the camera, referring to the "birthers" who do not believe President Obama is a U.S. Citizen. But Buck also made another gaffe when he told an audience to vote for him, not Jane Norton, because he does not wear high heels. He said: "I have cowboy boots. They have real bullsh** on 'em."

Norton pounced on those comments in a recent campaign ad.

Buck told Bob Orr on "Washington Unplugged" that Norton's playing it both ways.

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"My opponent has said a number of times," Buck said "that people should vote for her because she wears high heels, because she wears a skirt, because she's a woman. She'd be the first woman U.S. Senator in the history of Colorado. And then she ran a commercial that Ken Buck should be man enough to do x,y and z. I made a statement, it was a lighthearted statement, that I'm man enough, I don't wear high heels and I have cowboy boots on." (watch video at left)

Buck said he did not see much of backlash from his comments.

Polls close in Colorado at 7 p.m. Mountain Time tonight. Over half the state will have voted days ago by mail, but these campaigns are from over. The deeply bruised nominees on both sides won't have time to lick their primary wounds. They will have to dust themselves off for what is predicted to be a highly competitive race that ends just 84 days from today.

Washington Unplugged: Outsiders Surge in Colorado Senate Race
Andrew Romanoff: "It's Possible to Be Pro-Obama and Pro-Romanoff"
Ken Buck Defends "High Heels" Joke Against Jane Norton
CBSNews.com Special Report: Election 2010


Jill Jackson is a CBS News Capitol Hill Producer. You can read more of her posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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