For years, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has been passing countless opportunities to run for open seats. He finally decided that this was his year; that’s a curious choice considering ambitious Democrats have generally been trying to avoid running in 2010, but his party isn’t going to argue since it gives them a prominent candidate to field in Colorado’s Governor’s race.
Governor Bill Ritter’s unexpected withdrawal left a void in the Democratic ticket. The opportunity to replace him wasn’t quite as promising as that of swapping Chris Dodd for Richard Blumenthal, but given Ritter’s low approval ratings the party had more to gain than to lose. With Hickenlooper, Democrats have almost certainly improved their chances to hold on to the nomination considering that the two-term mayor has a strong statewide standing: back in December 2008, a poll that tested him in potential Senate match-ups found him crushing former Governor Bill Owens by double-digits. I am not aware of any other recent poll testing him but Research 2000 is currently in the field in Colorado, so we won’t have to wait long.
(Note that Hickenlooper cannot be sure he’ll have the Democratic field for himself: former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff is still considering switching from the Senate race, where he is challenging Bennet in the primary, to the Governor’s race.)
Republicans tend to relish attacking statewide candidates who are either from Boulder or from Denver, two cities that are more liberal than the state-at-large. (You might remember that saying Mark Udall was a “Boulder Democrat” was in-and-of itself considered an attack during the 2008.) Yet, Denver has nearly 600,000 inhabitants while its metropolitan area makes up more than half of Colorado’s population. Mayors are often better-known (and often better-liked) than other political officials, and Hickenlooper has been leading Denver for the past six years. If he manages to perform as well or better among voters who’ve been following him closely for the past than recent Democratic candidates who aren’t from Denver (Salazar, Udall and of course Obama), he would be sure to be competitive.
As such, Hickenlooper’s entry guarantees Democrats remain relevant in this crucial race - and this should have repercussions far beyond the question of who controls the state’s Governor’s Mansion. Senator Michael Bennet has never faced an election, he is still largely unknown and as of now he hasn’t displayed a particular ability to energize any voters, let alone a depressed Democratic base; had his part had suffered recruitment setbacks in the Governor’s race and had they settled on a lower-tier candidate, it would have raised troublesome questions as to who could carry the Democratic flag and draw voters to the poll next fall. Whatever Hickenlooper’s ultimate fate (as of now, a general election match-up against Republican Scott McInnis can only be called a toss-up), the presence of a well-known Democrat on the ballot has to be a relief for all the party’s other nominees down-ballot.
Another consideration is that Hickenlooper has a more moderate profile than other state Democrats; when we were speculating as to who would be appointed to Ken Salazar’s seat, Hickenlooper was considered a more conservative option than Democrats like Ed Permutter - and certainly than liberals like Diana DeGette. How will that impact the Democratic ticket considering that Bennet also has a centrist profile? Furthermore, Hickenlooper has had a rough relationship with unions; we’ll have to see how that affects how interests unions are in helping out Democrats in Colorado. Considering the party is facing turnout problems, it certainly cannot afford losing out on labor’s help.
If Democrats gained a prominent candidate in Colorado today, they’re also losing a formidable gubernatorial contender in Connecticut: Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz had arguably become the front-runner ever since Jodi Rell announced her retirement, which made today’s reports that she was preparing to drop out to run in the newly-open Attorney General race instead all the more surprising!
Indeed, this is one withdrawal we can’t link to a fear about a tough environment: Just last week, a poll was released that showed Bysiewicz crushing her Republican rivals by 25% and 22%. She was also in a strong position in the Democratic primary; though she did face tough competition (the most recent Quinnipiac poll had her leading Ned Lamont 26% to 23%, with Dan Malloy in single-digits), she never expected to have the field for herself since Malloy was always sure of running. More puzzling still: it’s not like Bysiewicz will have an easy time in the Attorney General race. She’ll have to face former state Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen, who is close to current-Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal.
Bysiewicz’s exit leaves three Democrats to battle it out: 2006 Senate candidate Ned Lamont, former House Speaker James Amann and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy. While all three would be strong general election contenders against Lieut. Gov. Michael Fedele and former Ambassador Tom Foley, last week’s PPP poll did suggest that none would be as formidable as Bysiewicz; Lamont and Malloy’s leads were half as large as Bysiewicz’s.
Also, a good point from Politico: If Bysiewicz wins the Attorney General race, Democrats are likely to remember the strong poll numbers she enjoyed over the past few months when they look for someone to take on Joe Lieberman in 2012.
A third and last important story about Democratic gubernatorial candidates comes to us from Rep. Stupak (yes, that Stupak) is now actively mulling the possibility that he might run for Governor in Michigan. That would probably leave everyone in his party unhappy, since the DCCC would have another tough open seat to defend while state Democrats would have to deal with one of liberals’ biggest looking villain looking to represent them. I’ll wait for Stupak to make up his mind to delve more into this possibility.