By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
Bill Ritter’s shocking withdrawal from the governor’s race gives John Hickenlooper his best opportunity for statewide elective office.
But the popular Denver mayor could have to challenge others in his own party — Ed Perlmutter or Ken Salazar, among them — for a chance to gain the governor’s mansion in a head-on race with former congressman Scott McInnis.
No matter the reason for Ritter’s withdrawal, his exit naturally boosts McInnis’ bid to become governor in 2011. But the Democratic bench, built up through nearly a decade of aggressive candidate development and fundraising, is especially deep.
Indeed, it was the threat of a gubernatorial run by Hickenlooper in 2006 that created a rift between the mayor and the future governor. Hickenlooper lingered in the wings too long, threatening Ritter’s own viability. The two politicos patched things up, but not enough for Ritter to choose Hickenlooper as Salazar’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.
As recently as last year, Hickenlooper told The Denver Post that he was still being approached by political leaders to run for governor as an independent, against the incumbent Ritter. But he declined, saying, “I would not be unraveling the fabric of collaboration.”
While viewed by some Dems as a stronger candidate than Ritter, Hickenlooper is not without political weak spots.
“Hickenlooper and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are examples of politicians who have won elections and reelections, but would have difficulty winning their respective party nominations,” Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli blogged last year as rumors arose regarding a possible independent bid by Hickenlooper for the governor’s job. “Although Hickenlooper is a social liberal, he is insufficiently supportive of organized labor’s agenda, somewhat fiscally conservative and not highly identified with minority patronage and politics.”