Democrats exiting the sinking ship? Part 11: Colorado 

Dropping like flies.

Yesterday North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan announced he was not running for reelection this year. Today Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd are announcing they aren’t running for reelection either.

I’ll get to Dodd in a later post, but it’s interesting to ponder what’s happening in Colorado. In 2008 it was a showcase for the popularity of Barack Obama. He accepted the Democratic nomination in Invesco Field, in front of a stage setting with fake Roman columns, to the cheers of tens of thousands. I remember seeing Ritter speak triumphantly at an earlier event, a concert in an amphitheater in the mountains above Denver, celebrating his own and Obama’s support of environmental causes (his official website calls him “Greenest Gov. in U.S.”).

Obama carried Colorado, which voted Republican in 1996, 2000 and 2004, by a 54%-45% margin. Democrat Mark Udall won the Senate seat held for 12 years by Republican Wayne Allard. The state’s U.S. House delegation, which was 5-2 Republican after the 2002 election, was 5-2 Democratic after the 2008 election, and Democrats emerged from that election with solid majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Looking ahead in November 2008 to 2010, Senator Ken Salazar and Governor Bill Ritter both seemed strong favorites for reelection.

That was then, this is now. Salazar was appointed Interior Secretary by Obama, and Ritter appointed Denver schools chief Michael Bennet to replace him. Despite a dazzling resume, Bennet has not been doing well in polls against Republicans, especially former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, and has primary opposition from former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (perhaps miffed after being passed over for the Senate nomination). Ritter has been trailing in polls behind Republican former Congressman Scott McInnis. As I wrote back in August, Democrats’ Colorado gold rush has turned into a bust.

Ritter is the first Colorado governor to retire after one term since Edwin C. Johnson did so in 1956. Johnson turned 72 that year and had previously been elected governor in 1932 and 1934 and U.S. senator in 1936, 1942 and 1948. Ritter turns 54 this year and, while he says he wants to spend more time with his family, three of his four children are of college age and the other lives in the governor’s mansion in Denver. It looks to me like Ritter got out in the face of impending defeat. It’s unclear who the Democratic nominee will be. The very popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper may run (he was clearly miffed when Ritter named his appointee Bennet rather than himself to the Senate); Romanoff could switch from the Senate race. But it’s clear that Colorado is no longer the solidly Obama/Democratic state it was in 2008.

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Michael Barone

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