- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

DENVER —There’s one big question on the minds of everyone considering a bid to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell in November: What will Bill do?

Most would-be candidates — Democrat and Republicans — are waiting to find out if Colorado’s Republican governor, Bill Owens, will run to replace Mr. Campbell, a fellow Republican who cited deteriorating health as the reason for not seeking a third term.

“Governor Owens is the 1,000-pound gorilla,” said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby. “He’s run three times statewide and won, he has a national reputation for being one of the best governors in the country, he’s a friend of the president’s — he has all these positives that no other candidate can touch.”

For his part, Mr. Owens has said he won’t make an announcement for “probably a couple of weeks,” during which time he said he plans to talk it over with his family, advisers and key state leaders.

“This decision isn’t going to be made on anybody’s timetable,” said Mr. Owens, who has two years left in his second term as governor.

Leading the field of potential Democratic candidates is Rep. Mark Udall, who represents a liberal Boulder district, but enjoys statewide name recognition, thanks in part to his famous political family. He declined to run against Sen. Wayne Allard two years ago, but he’s now considering his options.

“He’s going to be huddling with his family this weekend. He’ll make his intentions known soon,” said Udall spokesman Lawrence Pacheco.

Other Democrats considering bids are state Attorney General Ken Salazar, regarded as the front-runner to replace Mr. Owens as governor in two years. Also looking are Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who would easily capture liberal Denver, but could have trouble appealing to the state’s Republican majority.

Before Democrats can get behind a candidate, however, they have to figure out what to do with the one they already have. Three days before Mr. Campbell withdrew, millionaire businessman Rutt Bridges announced he would seek the Democratic nomination.

Now, with party stars such as Mr. Udall pondering a bid, Democratic leaders face a sticky situation: After spending months convincing Mr. Bridges to enter the contest, how do you ease him back out?

“You don’t,” said Bridges spokesman Susan Bachar. “He’s in it for good, regardless of who his challengers are in the Democratic primary.”

Even so, Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli predicted the party would find a way to avoid a costly primary.

“This state is too short of Democrats with any heft that I can’t imagine they wouldn’t do a deal,” said Mr. Ciruli. “I can’t seem them having a primary.”

On the Republican side, Reps. Scott McInnis and Tom Tancredo are each weighing their options. Mr. McInnis has the least to lose: He announced last year that he would not seek another term, saying he wanted to spend more time in Colorado.

But with Mr. Campbell retiring, Colorado may seem less inviting. “After Owens, McInnis is really the front-runner,” Mr. Ciruli said. “There’s nothing to hold him back, and he’s got a war chest from the last election.”

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