BROOMFIELD - Andrew Romanoff won the most votes for U.S. Senate at the Democratic State Assembly on Saturday, beating sitting Sen. Michael Bennet by a 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent margin.
The result means Romanoff will have the top line on the ballot for the Aug. 10 Democratic primary.
Romanoff, who has sworn off corporate donations, said he was very happy about the 21-point margin over a better-funded opponent.
Bennet also said he was happy with the results in Saturday's vote of party activists.
"From the very beginning, we were the complete outsiders," Bennet said.
Romanoff was the state Speaker of the House from 2005 to 2008 and is a party veteran.
He delivered a speech that played to the passions of the Democratic activists in the crowd.
"The message to our own party is this: Stiffen your spine or step out of the way," Romanoff said, to raucous cheers.
Weak performance by Senate Democrats produced health-care and financial reform that wasn't as strong as it should have been, Romanoff said.
Bennet also tapped into resentment against Washington in his speech.
"If we're going to get away from the same old political games that have failed us time and time before, we have to summon the strength to listen to what people are really saying and help them lead the talking heads and politicians, not the other way around," Bennet said.
Bennet highlighted the accomplishments of his short Senate career. Democrats passed health-care reform, credit-card reform, Wall Street reform and a stimulus package that included tax cuts for most Coloradans. He also proposed a freeze on congressional pay and a lifetime ban on lobbying by retired members of Congress.
Bennet needed 30 percent of Saturday's vote to make the August primary ballot.
He had already started a petition campaign in case he didn't make the cut at Saturday's assembly.
The assembly attracted 3,569 activist Democrats from across the state. The two campaigns will have to court much larger numbers of registered Democrats for the August primary.
Romanoff promised his campaign would be able to raise enough money to advertise on television. He also said he would run a strong grass-roots campaign across the state.
Bennet highlighted his visits to all 64 counties, but Romanoff, in an interview, dismissed the effort as "a tourist's knowledge of Colorado."
Bennet defended his efforts, saying he had spent every spare second the last 15 months in town halls around Colorado.
"I don't know how he's in any position at all to judge my knowledge of the state," Bennet said.
Romanoff promised in his speech that the primary would not divide his party.
"I respect my opponent, and I will support him if he wins our party's nomination," Romanoff said. "But with all due respect, let me also say this: This Senate seat doesn't belong to him any more than it belongs to me. This seat belongs to the people of Colorado."
Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet to the Senate in January 2009, after Ken Salazar resigned to become Interior secretary.
Ritter cautioned Democrats to keep their fire focused on Republicans.
"Whatever disagreements we have within our Democratic family, they are nothing compared to the disagreements with our opponents over what the future of our state should be," Ritter said.
Democrats also confirmed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper as their candidate for governor. He ran unopposed.
Hickenlooper pledged to run a positive campaign, but that doesn't mean he won't "point out differences."
"We will point out that we are interested in campaigning based on building Colorado up, not tearing people down," Hickenlooper said.