Pro-life Democrat vying for governor

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DENVER — After eight years of chafing under the rule of Republican Gov. Bill Owens, Colorado Democrats have a candidate for governor with a real shot at winning — and he opposes abortion.

Bill Ritter, the former Denver district attorney who’s running unchallenged for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, doesn’t describe himself as pro-life — but he is also not pro-choice — thus violating what has become a virtual litmus test for Democratic officeholders.

His candidacy has created an awkward situation for state Democrats, who are presented this year with an opportunity to capture both the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

At a Democratic gathering last week at a trendy Lower Downtown bar, Andy Bosselman said some of his liberal friends decided to stay home rather than meet Mr. Ritter, who dropped in to rally the troops and answer questions.

“The abortion thing made them think he’s socially conservative,” Mr. Bosselman said. “I think for Colorado he’s probably as good as we can get. I wouldn’t consider him a strong ally, but he’s probably better than [Republican candidate Rep. Bob] Beauprez.”

That lack of enthusiasm was echoed by Kathryn Wittneben, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.

“We obviously would have liked to have had a strong pro-choice candidate running for governor,” she said, adding that her group was “still in discussions” with the Ritter campaign.

How did Democrats end up with Mr. Ritter, 49, as their nominee? He entered the race early, and then watched as a half-dozen prominent pro-choice Democrats opted against running, despite the entreaties of pro-choice advocates.

Mr. Owens is prevented from running for a third term because of term limits. The two leading Republican gubernatorial contenders, Mr. Beauprez and former University of Denver President Marc Holtzman, are both pro-life.

Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann said he doubted Mr. Ritter would have survived a Democratic primary against a pro-choice candidate.

“Ritter has come to realize that choice is the Holy Grail issue for Democrats these days,” Mr. Sondermann said. “It would have made Ritter a vulnerable candidate in a Democratic primary, but somehow he dodged every one of those bullets. … He’s looking to me like a pretty lucky candidate, and lucky is a good thing in politics.”

What’s more, the same positions that would have hurt him in a primary — his opposition to abortion, his status as a gun owner and hunter — should help him in the general election.

“Most Democrats elected statewide are centrists,” Mr. Sondermann said. “The question is whether the Democrats will sit on their hands. There’s probably a fringe out there that won’t turn out, but I think that number will dwindle as the election approaches.”

For his part, Mr. Ritter doesn’t shy away from his opposition to abortion, although he’s quick to assure Democrats that he has no intention of advancing a pro-life political plank.

“I’m opposed to abortion as a matter of conscience for me, but our agenda doesn’t involve changing the law,” Mr. Ritter said at a meeting of Drinking Liberally, a club for young, urbane Democrats.

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