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“Hickenlooper is very independent. He’s hard to tie to the Democratic Party in general, much less with the Obama administration,” Mr. Ciruli said.

One potential drawback is that Mr. Hickenlooper hails from Denver, making him vulnerable to the “urban liberal” label in a state with significant numbers of conservative rural voters. Because he’s only run for mayor, he hasn’t been compelled to divulge his positions on many hot-button state and national issues.

“Hickenlooper has never run in a partisan election, and as mayor, he’s never dealt with the tough issues facing state politicians,” Mr. Wadhams said. “The quirky, personality-based campaign ain’t gonna work in 2010.”

Other possible Democratic contenders include Rep. Ed Perlmutter and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who’s currently challenging Sen. Michael Bennett for the party’s Senate nomination but could change his mind.