Salazar Clears the Field

Udall and Bridges Drop Out in Colo.

Posted March 10, 2004 at 6:44pm

In a feat that seemed impossible less than 24 hours ago, Colorado Democrats have cleared the Senate primary field for state Attorney General Ken Salazar, who announced his candidacy Wednesday afternoon.

Salazar was endorsed by Rep. Mark Udall (D) as well as philanthropist Rutt Bridges, both of whom dropped from the race Wednesday in favor of Salazar. He was joined at his announcement at the state Capitol by Bridges, former Gov. Roy Romer (D), Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

“Today I want to help the people of Colorado and our country achieve the same American dream that I have been able to live,” Salazar said in declaring his candidacy. “I will do so through my service as a United States Senator for the people of Colorado.”

Those words punctuated a madcap eight days in Colorado Democratic politics — precipitated by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s (R) retirement announcement — that featured its two biggest rising stars in a public power struggle.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Rep. Bob Beauprez (Colo.), the preferred choice of Gov. Bill Owens, convened a meeting Wednesday evening with his political advisers to decide whether to make a Senate bid.

Among the Democratic titans, Udall struck first, entering the Senate race around 8 p.m. Tuesday. But he bowed out roughly 18 hours later in favor of Salazar.

“Udall and Salazar are both good team guys and the greater good is party unity,” said Mike Stratton, a longtime Colorado Democratic operative, who will run Salazar’s campaign.

Stratton compared Campbell’s retirement last week to an “earthquake” in the state’s politics that led Salazar to diverge from his planned course to run for governor in 2006.

“These are very unique circumstances that have happened here,” Stratton explained.

Salazar has been the state’s top cop since 1998 and won re-election by 20 points in 2002.

In recent weeks he has been involved in a number of high-profile events, including the investigation into rape allegations aimed at members of the University of Colorado’s football team and his office’s release of a detailed analysis of the 1999 Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo.

“He is the most popular political figure in the state,” Stratton proclaimed.

Although Salazar is the only Democratic heavyweight in the race, he will still face a nuisance primary from educator Mike Miles and attorney Brad Freedberg.

While the Democratic picture is surprisingly clear, the Republican race remains muddled.

As Beauprez was huddling with his advisers, former Rep. Bob Schaffer has formed an exploratory committee and appears all but in the race; Reps. Scott McInnis and Tom Tancredo are also mulling their options.

Schaffer is likely to run regardless of the decisions made by the three Republican Members.

“I have fully contemplated and evaluated every possible scenario in the Republican primary and the general election and there is nothing that is discouraging in any way,” Schaffer said.

Although he left office in 2002, Schaffer is a darling among so-called movement conservatives in the state led by former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R).

The one potential concern for Schaffer is whether he can raise the money necessary to run a contested statewide primary and general election given that he never spent much more than $500,000 for any of his three House bids.

He maintained that “everything looks great” on the fundraising front and that the “most aggressive fundraisers in the state” have already signed up with him.

As for support from party leaders, Schaffer said that “the core of the leadership of the Republican Party is squarely in my camp.”

Schaffer’s contention aside, there is clearly a major movement in establishment Republican circles—led by Owens—to encourage Beauprez to join the race.

Beauprez, who served as state party chairman from 1999 to 2002 before being elected last cycle, is saying nothing at this point and did not return calls seeking comment.

Beauprez is being pulled in two directions, with Owens cheering him into the Senate race while officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee are urging him to stay and run for a second term in his extremely marginal 7th district seat.

If Beauprez does run for Senate, expect Democrats to spend heavily to win the suburban Denver seat, which was drawn as a toss up between the two parties in the 2001 redistricting process.

Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas is the lone Democratic candidate at the moment in the 7th, but others could follow if Beauprez runs for Senate. Colorado Board of Education President Jared Polis (D), a wealthy tech entrepreneur who jumped into the race for Udall’s House seat as soon as he announced he was running for Senate Tuesday night, may be persuaded to set his sights on the neighboring Beauprez district.

McInnis, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, has also been mum about his future plans since Owens backed out of the race.

The race for McInnis’ seat is already seen as competitive between the two parties.

If Beauprez chooses against the race, institutional Republicans are likely to turn to McInnis given the $1.3 million he has sitting in his House bank account and his positioning as a moderate.

McInnis’ district includes the San Luis Valley, which is part of Salazar’s political base.

Speculation has swirled that McInnis will pass on the Senate race and instead focus on the 2006 gubernatorial contest, but those familiar with the state’s politics warned that no definite decision has been made.

Tancredo is widely expected to join the race although a spokesman said Tuesday that the Congressman will not make any final decision until he meets with his family this weekend. A formal announcement is expected early next week.

Republicans are almost certain to hold Tancredo’s GOP stronghold regardless of whether he runs again.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.