In an affront to the Obama administration, former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday came out in support of Andrew Romanoff, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Colorado who is challenging a White House-backed incumbent, Sen. Michael Bennet.
“Andrew brings to this race both an extraordinary record of public service and an extraordinary capacity to lead. I believe that those assets, as well as his deep commitment to Colorado, give him the best chance to hold this seat in November,” Clinton said in a statement e-mailed to reporters by the Romanoff campaign.
Clinton’s office in New York and the Romanoff campaign confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail.
“It is significant to be sure,” said Romanoff spokesman Roy Teicher.*
Democrats face a tough Republican challenge in the Colorado Senate race from either former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton or Tea Party favorite Ken Buck, Weld County District Attorney.
Clinton has maintained good relations with President Obama and his administration, though there are major tensions between the Obama and Clinton camps. The 42nd president has also played a major role in recent elections, going to Pennsylvania and Arkansas to help key Democratic candidates to close victories.
Clinton’s backing of Romanoff over Bennet marks the first major break by the former president with the current.
But it is not as if the White House has simply backed Bennet. Romanoff was one of two Senate primary candidates challenging Democratic incumbents who the White House tried to persuade to leave the race.
When the White House tried to move the other Senate candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, out of the race, it communicated their intentions via Clinton.
White House officials did not respond to e-mails requesting comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked if he was “amused, dismayed, infuriated” by the news of Clinton’s support for Romanoff.
“None of the above,” Gibbs said.
However, a close Clinton ally said that former president’s backing of Romanoff was “no big deal,” and was tied to a friendship going back nearly 20 years, which Clinton mentioned in the e-mail. Romanoff also endorsed Hillary Clinton early in the Democratic presidential primary.
“He is supporting a former supporter – and there is no implied slight to President Obama,” the Clinton ally said. “In fact, President Clinton went out of his way to defend President Obama yesterday in Africa, calling criticism that he has not been sufficiently empathetic ‘a bum rap.’”
*Teicher’s name was spelled Teischer in early versions of this article.