Salazar: Hickenlooper for guv

Interior secretary, a Coloradan, won't run to replace Ritter

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar isn’t planning to run for Colorado governor.

Instead, the former Colorado attorney general and U.S. senator is endorsing Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor now that the incumbent, Bill Ritter, has dropped out.

Salazar made the decision Thursday to get out of the way for other contenders, saying he still had much work to do in implementing President Barack Obama’s goal to boost the nation’s clean-energy economy and protect the environment.

The announcement, however, didn’t prompt Hickenlooper to throw his hat into the ring immediately.

“We are very grateful and honored for Secretary Salazar’s support,” the two-term mayor said in a statement. “This doesn’t change our course. My family and I will take the appropriate time to consider whether a run for governor is the right thing to do.”

During the past two days, as political observers around the state began to speculate who would fill the hole left by Ritter, Republicans and Democrats alike said Salazar was the clear front-runner that others likely wouldn’t oppose.

While some may be disappointed Salazar won’t be the candidate, his announcement clears the way for Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter or even former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to consider running, just to name a few, Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak said.

“There are a number of people who are looking into this race, and I’ve tried to talk to all of them,” Waak said. “Obviously Ken Salazar was someone that everyone was going to defer to, but now it’s a matter of going through the people who have expressed an interest to see how deep that interest is. That’s what I’m concentrating on now.”

Though that deferring may have been true about Salazar, it isn’t for Hickenlooper, she said.

He’s widely liked, particularly in the Denver metropolitan area, but he hasn’t run as tough a campaign as he would face here, Waak said.

“Although he certainly has some regard, he hasn’t run a partisan campaign before, and there’s a lot of partisan politicians out there,” she said.

Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said he was surprised Salazar didn’t jump in, and he anxiously is waiting to see who will.

He said whoever gets into the race still will have to deal with Ritter’s record as governor.

“He might not be on the ballot, but his record will be,” Wadhams told The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board Thursday. “Ritter’s issues are still in play.”

In his endorsement of Hickenlooper, Salazar called the Denver mayor a “uniter” who could bring the party and state together.

“Colorado needs a strong, experienced leader with optimism and new ideas for carrying our state forward,” Salazar said. “He transcends political and geographic divides to bring people together to develop solutions.”

Speaking to the media at an impromptu news conference in Denver, Scott McInnis said it doesn’t matter whom he faces in the general election. His focus will be the same.

Like Wadhams, he said Ritter’s agenda is the same as the Democrats’ agenda, particularly on such things as controversial new oil and gas regulations and increased vehicle-registration fees. As a result, those issues will continue to be hotly debated.

“Whoever the Democrat is, (is) going to have a very difficult time defending the platform that the people of this nation, that the people of this state have said is the wrong way,” McInnis said. “I’d much rather be in my shoes. Our focus wasn’t what we were going to use against the other person. Our focus was, ‘What can we do better?’  It didn’t shift at all. We may be dealing with a mayor; we may be dealing with a former legislator. Who knows how this is going to shuffle out.”


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