- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

DENVER (AP) — Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, beset by health problems and an office scandal involving a longtime aide, announced yesterday that he will not seek a third term this fall.

“After a great deal of soul searching and reflection I have decided not to seek re-election,” the Colorado Republican said in a statement. “I feel the time has come to pass that duty on to another and return to my ranch with my family that I love.”

Mr. Campbell, 70, has faced questions about his health since last year, when he acknowledged undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Last week, he was examined in a Washington hospital after experiencing mild chest pains that turned out to be heartburn.

“After spending another night in the hospital, I realize the deteriorating health may hamper my ability to serve,” Mr. Campbell said. “Doctors have assured me that after treatment for prostate cancer, the recovery rate is 98 percent. But I believe Coloradans deserve a 100 percent guarantee of service.”

The retirement gives Democrats an open seat to target in the coming fall campaign. Republicans hold a Senate majority of 51-48 with one Democrat-leaning independent. The Republican Party hopes to pad its majority by winning some or all of a string of Southern seats where Democrats are retiring.

Mr. Campbell is the third Republican senator to retire this year; five Democrats also have announced retirement plans.

Mr. Campbell, the only American Indian in the Senate, had spent weeks promising to mount a vigorous campaign. He had been considered a difficult incumbent to oust and Democrats have had trouble finding a big-name candidate to challenge him, but his announcement threw the Senate race wide open.

Former Sen. Gary Hart and Rep. Mark Udall had declined to run, leaving the Democratic Party with wealthy think-tank founder Rutt Bridges, little-known lawyers Brad Freedberg and Larry Johnson, and educator Mike Miles.

Chris Gates, the state Democratic Party chairman, called it a “beautiful day” and said he expected Gov. Bill Owens to seek the Republican nomination.

Mr. Owens was not immediately available for comment. In a statement, he thanked Mr. Campbell for his years of service and called him a “Colorado legend.”

State Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby declined to speculate about a candidate.

“I’m sure it will take a few days for things to filter out,” Mr. Halaby said. “But we expect to field a very strong and credible candidate and it certainly will be our purpose to keep that seat in the Republican column.”

Mr. Campbell’s office was rocked last month when accusations were raised that a longtime aide had been taking kickbacks. The senator reported the matter to the Senate ethics committee.

At issue are accusations from former staffer Brian Thompson. He claims Chief of Staff Ginnie Kontnik gave him bonuses with an understanding that he would return $2,000 to her so she could pay a lawyer handling her divorce.

Mr. Campbell said he knew Mr. Thompson was receiving bonuses, but if money was given back to Mrs. Kontnik, it happened without his knowledge. “I did not know about it,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

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