Bennet could be safe because of GOP concerns elsewhere

Michael Bennet speaks at a local event.

The decision by four Republican senators in competitive states to retire could complicate the party’s hope that Michael Bennet, the man selected to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., will be an easy seat to pick off in 2010.

With at least four Republican-held seats open, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its independent peers will focus on retaining the seats they have before investing in a pickup opportunity, according to Colorado political observers.

“To the extent that they’ve got other seats to defend and have to put their money there, that’s less they’ve got to put here,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University.

Further complicating the Republican Party’s situation are the location of their seats: Three of the four senators stepping down — George Voinovich, R-Ohio, Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla. —  represent battleground states.

The fourth retiree, Sen. Sam Brownback, R- Kan., comes from a red state, but difficulties for Republicans could arise in the event popular Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius chooses to run for the seat.

Republicans also will have a series of seats to defend in states that voted for President-elect Barack Obama, including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster, said the election landscape confronting the Republican Party will push it to place a high priority on holding the seats it has, including the open seats.

However, Colorado will not be completely off the party’s radar, he said.

“Bennet, being an unknown quantity, would probably put it fairly high on a potential pickup list,” Ciruli said.

Mike Hesse, a Republican political consultant, said how high Bennet is on that targeted list also depends on the quality of the GOP candidate the party puts forward and Bennet’s effectiveness in Washington.

“I think a lot of that depends on the perception of the job Mike is doing … and what sort of loyal opposition we put forward,” Hesse said.

The retirements might not be all bad news for Colorado, according to Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. He said the retirements of Republican incumbents in competitive states, such as Florida and Ohio,  could help the party improve its chances of defending those seats.

Wadhams highlighted Rob Portman in Ohio, a former congressman and presidential staffer, and Florida state Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as better candidates than the incumbents leaving office.

With or without the retirements in Ohio, Florida and other states, the Republican Party is bracing for its share of competitive Senate races — Colorado included, Wadhams said.


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