Ritter looks to fill Senate seat

With Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., expected to join President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet, Gov. Bill Ritter has a weighty decision to make in picking his replacement.

Not only will Salazar’s replacement jump headfirst into the inaugural legislative session of Obama’s presidency, but he or she also can anticipate a competitive 2010 re-election contest.

Though the challenge is considerable, Ritter has the advantage of a deep Democratic bench to fill Salazar’s seat. Here are a few of the men and women who could garner the appointment:

•  Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper — From helping oversee a successful national convention this summer to winning re-election last year with more than 86 percent of the vote,
Hickenlooper has a strong base he can only build on.
In the words of independent pollster Floyd Ciruli: “He’s not known quite as well in some areas, but because he runs so strong with unaffiliated voters and moderate Republicans, he would probably be the frontrunner in the state, even compared to Ritter.”

•  Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff — The term-limited state lawmaker has been one of the chief deal brokers at the state Capitol. Romanoff also helped usher Democrats back to the majority in Colorado state government. Romanoff’s only downside is he is largely untested in a statewide electoral contest.
•  Congressman John Salazar — Since his election in 2004, Salazar has proven twice over that Democrats can win in Republican-leaning areas. Just as Salazar said of Obama, the same is true of him in a 2010 statewide election: If you can win in the 3rd Congressional District, you can win the state.
Salazar’s appointment, however, would force a special election for his current seat in a Republican-leaning district.

•  Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy — Pick any major fiscal policy of Colorado’s recent history, and Kennedy likely had her hands in it. From 2000’s Amendment 23 to 2005’s Referendum C to this year’s failed fix for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Kennedy has been at the forefront, though sometimes behind the scenes, of state policy.
Kennedy proved herself as a tough pol during the 2006 election for treasurer, defeating state Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, by running a strong statewide campaign.

Ritter has a series of strong choices to fill the seat, including several not named here, but Republicans should see Salazar’s departure as a chance to take back one of Colorado’s Senate seats.

“I think this definitely puts the seat in play,” Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said, “and I have no doubt that we have several people that could win the seat.”

John Redifer, political science professor at Mesa State College, said Republicans leery about running uphill against Salazar — a well-known and well-liked moderate Democrat — will feel more comfortable running against an appointee.

“I definitely think a Republican candidate thinking about running will see this as a wide-open opportunity, rather than going against an entrenched incumbent,” he said.


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