It is being reported by the National Journal and Denver’s Channel 7 News that Colorado Governor Bill Ritter will not seek a second term in office. It’s not a great surprise, given other elected Democrats around the nation who have seen the tide turn with stunning rapidity against the party of hope and change. (North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan announced his retirement just a few hours earlier.) But Ritter’s situation was even worse than the party’s. He was a man who – much like Barack Obama – ran as a fiscal moderate and – again much like Obama – abandoned that pretense immediately upon taking office.
He hired over 1,000 state government workers after imposing a hiring freeze. He unionized state workers. He pandered to environmental radicals in writing new energy exploration rules which decimated oil and gas production in the state. (To be sure, some of the gas decline is due to the low price of gas, but there is no such excuse when we’ve had oil consistently between $70 and $80 for much of the past year.) He passed a very unpopular hike in car registration fees and associated penalties.
And clearly he knew he was going to lose to presumptive GOP nominee Scott McInnis.
Presuming the rumor is true and confirmed by Ritter shortly, the pontificating will begin.
The liberal ColoradoPols website is already mentioning three Democratic possibilities to run for the governorship: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. I would add Andrew Romanoff as an obvious possibility.
So, let’s discuss:
First, the obvious: If I were Scott McInnis, I’d rather run against anyone but John Hickenlooper. The Mayor, while a Democrat, has not made a liberal mess of himself or the city (with the important exception of its status as “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.) He’s been relatively pro-business and he’s extremely personable, with an affable demeanor and sense of humor. Even with Hickenlooper’s “Willie Horton” problem (an illegal alien who worked in a restaurant Hickenlooper owned murdered a police officer, fled to Mexico, and was only returned when the state promised it would not seek the death penalty), I would expect Hickenlooper to be the front-runner against any other candidate of any party, even in an election year which does not seem at this moment likely to be very friendly to Democrats.
As for Perlmutter, he’s been an undistinguished Congressman at best. He has a hint of corruption about him regarding his ownership in a “green” bank. And he will be strongly encouraged by the DCCC to run for re-election since a Republican such as Ryan Frazier would have an easier time taking that seat (Colorado’s 7th Congressional District) for the GOP if he were running against someone other than the incumbent. Switching races wouldn’t help Perlmutter’s popularity and I would expect he’ll realize he has a better (even if not great) chance of staying on the government payroll by running for reelection in the 7th. As someone who wants the GOP to win the governorship, I hope Perlmutter runs to replace Ritter.
Ken Salazar’s problem is that he is now closely tied to the Obama Administration. And he’s another guy who ran for the Senate as a moderate but then wasn’t…and became even less so when working for The One. As I’ve noted before, “As Salazar’s address moved to the right, his position moved to the left.” I think the folksly cowboy-hat wearing “man of the people” routine has worn out its welcome. While I think McInnis would beat Salazar, it remains possible that Salazar would have substantial fund-raising ability and it would certainly be a battle to the end.
And then there’s Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff could be a formidable candidate, although he has no executive experience. He is relatively popular and superficially appealing. However, his positions are quite far left as shown by the “common wisdom” that his likely strategy in his primary challenge to Senator Michael “Who?” Bennet would be to run to Bennet’s left…a space where there is precious little room. Romanoff would have to consider whether he wants to try to be a legislator or an executive; not everybody has equal interest in both. And he has to consider whether he wants a job that takes him out of the state most of the time. Finally, he has to consider which race he’s more likely to win. While he’s an underdog in the Senate primary and probably in the Senate general election if he were to get through the primary, he might be slightly less of an underdog than against McInnis in the governor’s race. Furthermore, if he could get through the primary, he would have some momentum going into the general election for Senate against a relatively unknown Republican candidate.
One major question, especially for Romanoff, is whether he could raise enough money to run a competitive US Senate race. I expect the governor’s race to come with a much lower price tag, though it still will be a dearly-bought prize for the winning party.
I would also note that the GOP’s intention of “nationalizing” as many elections as possible in 2010 would likely be a successful tactic against all of the mentioned likely Democrats except John Hickenlooper. Perlmutter votes with Obama. Salazar works for Obama. And Romanoff’s relatively low name recognition will keep him from being able to defend himself from charges of being just another Obama-like liberal (a charge which in terms of policy is probably fairly accurate in any case.)
So, my handicapping of a race between Scott McInnis and the Democrats are as follows:
1) John Hickenlooper beats McInnis by 5%.
2) McInnis beats Ed Perlmutter by 8%
3) McInnis beats Ken Salazar by 4%
4) McInnis beats Andrew Romanoff by 7%
And if the rumor is false and Ritter does run for re-election, I think McInnis wins by 8%.
So, as I said earlier, if I were the GOP, I’d hope that John Hickenlooper finds, yet again, a reason not to run for governor.
Finally, as for Bill Ritter, don’t forget that he was one of the earliest big-name supporters of Barack Obama in Colorado. It would not surprise me if we see him get offered a position, whether a real job or something more ceremonial, by the Obama Administration, especially if it becomes clear that his withdrawal was orchestrated knowing that Hickenlooper would run to succeed him.
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