House Members Express Interest in Possible Colorado Senate Vacancy

Posted December 16, 2008 at 11:34am

Updated 3:08 p.m.

With reports indicating this week that President-elect Barack Obama is set to nominate first-term Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) to be the next secretary of the Interior, talk of would-be Senate successors has already begun.

That early chatter has included at least three Members of the state’s Congressional delegation, and by Tuesday morning, some of those Members began telegraphing their interest in the seat.

Leslie Oliver, a spokesman for 7th district Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), pointed out that the power of appointing a Senator until a 2010 special election can be held lies solely with Gov. Bill Ritter (D), but that if Perlmutter were asked to fill the post, “he would have to seriously weigh and consider it.”

That being said, Oliver added, Perlmutter, who just won his second term in November, “loves the job he’s doing” and believes that appointing Salazar to Obama’s Cabinet would be “a great thing for the country.”

Ritter so far has kept his own counsel about whom he might tap to fill the Senate vacancy.

A spokesman for 1st district Rep. Diana DeGette (D) acknowledged Tuesday morning that his boss has been encouraged by friends and supporters to throw her hat into the ring for the Senate appointment ever since rumors began to circulate over the past week that Salazar would receive the Interior secretary post.

“The Congresswoman would definitely have to look at” such a move, spokesman Kristofer Eisenla said. He added that the six- term Congresswoman has had no conversations with Ritter yet. “She needs to decide where she best serves the people of Colorado,” Eisenla said.

For now at least, the quietest House Member whose name is in the mix has been Rep. John Salazar, the older brother of the Senator. John Salazar, who recently earned a spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has been a rising star in the party since he won a Republican-leaning seat in 2004. On Tuesday, several party operatives indicated that John Salazar’s family connections and political savvy make him a leading contender for the Senate post. The Congressman’s spokesman, Eric Wortman, refused to answer questions about his boss’s interest in the Senate seat. However, John Salazar released a statement “enthusiastically” endorsing Ken Salazar for the Interior post. “I am proud of Ken,” John Salazar said. “There is not a better choice for Secretary of the Interior than my brother.”

Outside the state’s House delegation, the names of several state officials have been floated for Ken Salazar’s Senate seat. They include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former U.S. attorney and two-time Senate nominee Tom Strickland and outgoing Colorado Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff, who is being term-limited out of office, told the Denver Post on Monday that he would be interested in the Senate seat as he is “looking for a way to make a contribution to the state.”

But even as Democrats begin to speculate about the appointment process, Republicans are eager for the possibility of a competitive 2010 special election in the Centennial State. Ken Salazar’s re-election had been considered a safe bet heading into the 2010 cycle, but now Republicans believe they have a shot against a newly appointed Senator in the battleground state.

Among the Republican names emerging Tuesday morning were outgoing Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Rep. Scott McInnis.

Obama and Ken Salazar were elected to the Senate in 2004 and were considered to be two of the Democratic Party’s only bright spots of that election cycle. Obama was the only African-American Member of the Senate, and Salazar was the only Hispanic Democrat. The two lawmakers have also shared an ability to find common ground between the party’s progressive and moderate wings and have both been considered rising stars.

Salazar, who has developed a reputation for his work on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his time in the Senate, was the head of Colorado’s Natural Resources Department from 1990 to 1994, and later served as state attorney general.