Come and see Colorado’s 3-ring political circus

Romanoff sold his house to pour every available dollar into a hair-singeing ad that says Bennet “looted” $1 billion from a chain of cinemas that went bankrupt in 2004, and earned $11 million in the process.

Even some activists and commentators who admire Romanoff said the ad seriously distorted Bennet’s role in the complex bankruptcy proceedings several years ago. While acknowledging Bennet’s $11 million income, they note that the reorganized movie theater company now employs more people than before.

Obama placed a final-week conference call to Colorado voters Tuesday, taking issue with the TV ad and calling Bennet “the person that I want alongside me.”

No one mentioned the TV ads when Romanoff spoke recently to about 40 Hughes Aircraft retirees holding their monthly luncheon at the Mr. Panda restaurant in Denver’s southeastern suburbs. One man urged him to help end the direct election of senators (Romanoff politely declined), and another asked how the candidate could “overcome the political machine in D.C.”

Romanoff said he’s not perfect but doesn’t “take a dime” from special interests.

Romanoff, who is backed by former President Bill Clinton, said in a later interview that his ad attacking Bennet is fair. Bennet is desperate, he said, because his “campaign is in free fall.”

Bennet says he knows the race is close but he feels good about his chances. Romanoff’s TV ad, he said, “reminds me of the worst of Washington, D.C.: People playing politics and completely disregarding the facts” for political gain.

Late in the primary race, Bennet had a new problem: Explaining a pension financing deal that he recommended while he served as schools superintendent.

Buck and Norton, meanwhile, keep sparring over the coveted non-establishment label. Buck, a former federal prosecutor and the elected district attorney from a northern county, raised eyebrows by mocking Norton’s “high heels” while noting that his cowboy boots are stained with cow dung.

He crusades against illegal immigration, and once obtained search warrants to seize thousands of tax returns filed with a firm that caters to Hispanics. Buck said he was fighting identity theft, and the raid led to some illegal immigrants being deported. But critics called it a stunt, and the state Supreme Court ruled that it violated privacy rights.

Buck has closer ties to tea party activists than Norton does, even though he got caught on camera complaining about tea party “dumba—s” who insist Obama was born in Kenya.

In an interview, Buck said he clearly is the non-establishment candidate. “Jane was selected by John McCain and the officials in D.C.,” he said.

Norton calls the comments “a clever campaign to paint yourself as an outsider.” She said she has created more private-sector jobs than Buck has, and trimmed more government budgets.

As a former lieutenant governor and state health director, Norton began with greater name recognition and a broader government resume. But Buck seems to be setting the campaign’s tone. Norton, for instance, endorsed term limits for members of Congress after Buck did so.

Both candidates are conservative by any measure. They have pledged not to raise taxes, a vow that could limit their options in dealing with big issues such as reducing the deficit.