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Real Estate Man Jilts Colo. GOP

Just days after forming an exploratory committee and huddling with Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., real estate magnate Dave Liniger disappointed many GOP officials by announcing Monday that he would not run for the open Senate seat in Colorado.

With Liniger’s decision, state and national Republicans appear to finally have settled on former Rep. Bob Schaffer as their preferred candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R).

“I expect people to unify and rally behind Bob Schaffer,” said Cinamon Watson, one of the top advisers to Gov. Bill Owens (R), who was also guiding Liniger’s exploratory committee.

Elizabeth Blackney, a spokeswoman for Schaffer said the campaign “feels really comfortable that Bob is the frontrunner,” noting that the state Republican Party chairman had kind words for the former Member on Tuesday.

Blackney predicted “everything is now going to proceed in a unified manner.”

Even though Schaffer entered the race shortly after Campbell announced his retirement last month, Owens had been the strongest advocate for a Liniger candidacy after deciding against a run himself. He later watched GOP Reps. Bob Beauprez and Scott McInnis, as well as Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, resist his entreaties to make the race.

“I would hope at this point that party leaders including Governor Owens would rally around Bob Schaffer,” said one Republican with strong ties to Colorado.

The source noted that Schaffer and Owens, along with Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), are all cut from the same conservative cloth and should be seen as allies, not enemies.

“On voting record, philosophy and rhetoric you couldn’t tell the difference between a Bill Owens, a Bob Schaffer and a Wayne Allard,” the source added.

Allard has already endorsed Schaffer’s candidacy, as have Colorado Republican Reps. Marilyn Musgrave and Tom Tancredo, who also considered running but deferred to the former Congressman. It is now considered highly unlikely that Owens will try to recruit another Republican into the race.

Mike Stratton, campaign chairman for the likely Democratic Senate nominee, state Attorney General Ken Salazar (D), said that Liniger’s decision “forecasts that sooner rather than later they are going to be coming after us.”

Salazar faces token primary opposition but has the support of state and national Democrats.

Stratton hung his prediction on recent polling that shows Salazar with a double-digit edge over Schaffer.

In a poll conducted by GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies for the Rocky Mountain News, Salazar held a 49 percent to 34 percent over Schaffer.

The survey was in the field on March 31 and April 1, testing 400 likely voters with a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Salazar’s campaign had previously released a mid-March poll that showed him with a 45 percent to 35 percent lead over Schaffer.

Salazar’s early edge is due in large part to his superior name identification garnered over six years as the state’s top cop.

Schaffer served in Congress from 1996 until 2002 when he retired in keeping with a three-term-limit pledge.

Liniger’s departure from the race came just days after he visited Washington, D.C., to discuss the contest with party officials.

National party leaders — including Campbell — made it clear at that time that they would likely support Liniger over Schaffer due to the former’s personal wealth.

Liniger founded the real estate giant Re/Max and could easily have contributed millions of dollars to a primary and general election campaign, according to knowledgeable Republican sources.

In a statement, Liniger said that his work on behalf of Re/Max had kept him on the road for up to 200 days a year for the past 30 years, adding that both he and his wife “want to spend more time in Colorado rather than in Washington, D.C.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee officials sought to portray Liniger’s choice as a reflection of Salazar’s strength.

“It demonstrates there is little enthusiasm among most Republicans to run against Ken Salazar in Colorado,” said DSCC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse.

Dan Allen, Woodhouse’s counterpart at the National Republican Senatorial Committee expressed optimism about the recent developments.

“We feel confident about Colorado with the strong enrollment advantage Republicans have and the fact that Republicans have a decade-long winning streak in federal races,” he said.

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