Obama Hails Bennet Selection, but GOP Certain to Target Colorado Seat

Posted January 3, 2009 at 4:48pm

Democrats are clearly hoping that good policy makes good politics in Colorado. In announcing Saturday that he would appoint Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar (D) in the Senate, Gov. Bill Ritter (D) named someone known as a policy innovator and creative thinker. Ritter, Bennet and Salazar appeared together at a news conference at the state Capitol on Saturday afternoon. Bennet will take Salazar’s seat assuming the Senator is confirmed as Interior secretary. “Our challenges are so serious that it will take a new generation of leaders, a new way of thinking and a bold new approach to problem-solving to steer us through this,” Ritter said in a statement. That sentiment was echoed by President-elect Barack Obama. “Filling Ken Salazar’s boots in the U.S. Senate is a tall order,” Obama said. “But in selecting Michael Bennet, Gov. Ritter has made an excellent choice. Michael Bennet perfectly reflects the qualities of the ruggedly independent state he has been chosen to serve. An innovator in the public and private sectors, he has shown himself willing to challenge old thinking and stale policies.” But the simple reality is that Bennet, 44, has little experience as a political candidate. By selecting him to replace Salazar in the Senate, Ritter has bypassed several more seasoned pols and better-known public figures — including Members of Congress. And it is certain that Republicans, who have taken it on the chin in the past three election cycles in Colorado, will heavily target the Senate seat in 2010. Still, Bennet is not a complete political novice. Before taking over Denver’s troubled school system in 2005, he spent two years as chief of staff to popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. He also worked for the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. He has a sterling reputation among policy experts and political insiders — even though he is barely known outside of Denver. As Bennet scrambles to learn the ways of the Senate and introduce himself to Colorado voters, Republicans will scramble to find a strong challenger while looking for someone to take on Ritter. Popular state Attorney General John Suthers (R) is mentioned as a possible candidate for both offices, but if he declines to run for Senate, the GOP may be forced to turn to old political hands: former Rep. Bob Beauprez — who was wiped out by Ritter in the 2006 gubernatorial election — or former Reps. Scott McInnis (R) and Tom Tancredo (R). Former University of Denver President Marc Holtzman has also been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate, though he is more likely to try to run for governor.