Bill Ritter's Curious Choice

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's decision to appoint Michael Bennet, the superintendent of the Denver school system, to the U.S. Senate was met with ...
by | January 5, 2009
 

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's decision to appoint Michael Bennet, the superintendent of the Denver school system, to the U.S. Senate was met with a universal, "huh?"

Bennet has never run for elected office. Colorado Democrats have a deep bench of well-positioned candidates, including U.S. Rep. John Salazar (elected in a Republican-leaning district) and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (elected in a swing district). Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper would have started in the strongest position of all -- he would have been the favorite for governor in 2006 instead of Ritter had he decided to run.

So why did Ritter pick Bennet instead? Most likely, the explanation is that Ritter thought Bennet would make a smart, competent, thoughtful senator. But, if you're looking for a more cynical explanation, try this one: The Bennet selection is likely to make Ritter's 2010 reelection bid easier.

After a series of setbacks, Republicans don't have many strong statewide candidates in Colorado. The only Colorado Republicans in Congress are Doug Lamborn, a sophomore House member in a very Republican district, and Mike Coffman, a freshman in a Republican district. Coffman is a promising future statewide contender -- he served as Colorado's elected secretary of state before winning his House seat in November -- but he's likely to stick around in the House a little while before switching offices again.

Colorado Republicans also don't have many elder statesman to woo. Bill Owens, a former two-term governor, alienated many members of his own party before leaving office. Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell will be 77 by 2010.

All of that means that, leading up to 2010, an inordinate amount of attention will be on state Attorney General John Suthers, the lone Republican statewide officeholder. Suthers' scored a solid victory in 2006, a very bad year for many Colorado Republicans.

Suthers, of course, can't run for both governor and senator in 2010. Had Hickenlooper been the new senator, Suthers would have had a tough choice. Hickenlooper has never run statewide, but performs well in the polls. Ritter is reasonably popular, though not overwhelmingly so.

Now, with a potential race against the untested Bennet, Suthers is much more likely to run for Senate. Whether it was Ritter's intention in naming Bennet or not, that should leave the governor with a weaker opponent.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from Politics