Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), who holds one of the most competitive House seats in the nation, confirmed Tuesday that barring some unforeseen occurrence, he will be a candidate for governor next year.
“We are doing everything we can to make that a reality,” Beauprez said. “We certainly haven’t starting backing up yet.”
He added that a formal announcement of his intentions will come later this year.
With Beauprez, who has held the swing 7th district since its creation by a judge during a contentious redistricting process in 2001, all but certain to run for governor in 2006, state Republicans are quickly coalescing around Rick O’Donnell, the executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, as their preferred candidate in the district.
Seeking to quickly capitalize, O’Donnell sent a letter to Republicans in the district late last week announcing his candidacy while simultaneously informing voters that Beauprez had made clear he would run for governor in 2006.
“I am not going to lose a step,” said O’Donnell in an interview Wednesday. “We are laying the groundwork now.”
The 7th district, which comprises much of the western and northern suburbs of Denver, is one of the most competitive in the nation. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) won it 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004.
As a result, both national parties are already gearing up for an election the cost of which will run into the millions of dollars.
“It will be a tough race, but over the past several cycles we have proven our ability to win competitive open seats,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti.
“An open-seat race is always a priority,” said Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We feel incredibly good about our chances.”
O’Donnell is the only candidate looking at the race who has previously run under these district lines.
In 2002 he placed second behind Beauprez in the four-way GOP primary.
Then — as now — he boasted strong ties to Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) but by his own admission was unable to compete financially with Beauprez, who dumped roughly $350,000 of his own money into the primary.
“I am going to raise more money in the first month this time than I raised in my entire primary campaign,” in 2002, O’Donnell said.
In that race, he brought in $161,000, $67,000 of which came from his own pocket.
Beauprez took 38 percent to 31 percent for O’Donnell and went on to claim the seat in November by a mere 121 votes over former state Sen. Mike Feeley (D).
Since that race, O’Donnell said he has “broadened and deepened my relationships with the major donor community.”
As evidence, he pointed out that the former state party chairman, Bruce Benson, and former Colorado Sen. Bill Armstrong have both cut checks to his nascent 2006 campaign.
Benson is seen as the leading symbol of the establishment wing of the state party; Armstrong is the voice of Colorado’s social conservatives.
That kind of broad support could spell trouble for the other major GOP candidate considering the race, state Treasurer Mike Coffman.
Coffman was expected to make a gubernatorial bid in 2006 but dropped his effort earlier this month in deference to Beauprez.
Although he does not live in the 7th, Coffman resides only a few blocks outside of the its borders.
Coffman is also contemplating a run for secretary of state. He is expected to make a decision on which office to seek by early May. He did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
Jefferson County Treasurer Mark Paschall (R), a conservative, is also mentioned as a potential candidate.
O’Donnell expressed confidence that Coffman will ultimately pass on the race, leaving him without a top-tier primary opponent.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of candidates stepping up on the Republican side,” said O’Donnell. “That is a sign of my strength.”
The question before Democrats is not whether there will be a primary, but rather how many candidates will eventually make the race.
Already, former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter, former state Rep. Peggy Lamm and 2004 6th district nominee Joanna Conti are running. Banker Jim Polsfut, who ran for state treasurer in 2002, is also likely to make a bid.
Perlmutter and Lamm appear to be in the top tier.
The seat was initially drawn in 2001 with Perlmutter in mind, but he passed on the contest, citing the young age of his children. He held a state Senate district that took in the western suburbs of Jefferson County from 1994 until 2002.
Lamm currently serves as the executive director of the Bighorn Center for Public Policy and did a stint as co-chairwoman of the committee that investigated recruiting wrongdoing by the University of Colorado football team.
Lamm is also the former sister-in-law of ex- Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm (D).