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Political silence about to end



When we last looked at Colorado's political scene, new U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was taking the first baby steps toward building the presence required to compete in his first election in 2010.

That was in January, as the state's Democrats were busy trying to figure out why Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet and not outgoing Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, the new Interior secretary for President Barack Obama.

Now it's nearly April, and Ritter's snub of Romanoff, who had built broad-based support and goodwill across the state, still doesn't make sense. At the time, many onlookers figured eventually a smart explanation would emerge. Instead, nothing. Romanoff isn't talking to media, on or off the record. He's also not responding to messages, presumably to avoid saying something he might regret.

All we've heard is that, yes, Romanoff was bewildered by Ritter's decision to appoint Bennet. We also heard some position of importance would be coming to Romanoff. That hasn't happened, likely because of all the whispers that Romanoff might oppose Bennet in 2010.

For now, Romanoff has become a "scholar-in-residence" at the University of Colorado at Denver's School of Public Affairs. The school's announcement says Romanoff will help "connect students with state government opportunities, assist with capstones, teach in the MPA (master of public administration) program and work on various civic engagement initiatives." In other words, it keeps him busy until he returns to politics.

Meanwhile, Colorado's Republicans have been reticent. Their only state-level elected official, Attorney General John Suthers, insists he won't run for the Senate or against Ritter. In a recent conversation at a local event, the 57-year-old Suthers went into eloquent detail about how he considers himself more of a lawyer, not a politician, and how he wouldn't be able to continue as attorney general and raise the millions he would need over the next year to run for Senate.

Even with the national GOP willing to provide much financial help for pursuing a vulnerable Senate seat, the list of promising Republicans is thin. Bob Beauprez, who lost the 2006 governor race to Ritter, 57 to 40 percent, has expressed interest but also might prefer a rematch against Ritter. Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney, is among a group of Senate wannabes who have never been on a state ballot. From the far right, ex-congressman Tom Tancredo must see this as the best chance he'll ever get.

That's it. In fact, the lack of a strong GOP challenger might further inspire Romanoff to run against Bennet in the 2010 Democratic primary. Usually, a state party would fear a primary battle followed by a general election race. But this time, Bennet's main test might come from inside his own party.

We shouldn't have to wait long for answers, because any candidate must start raising big money now. Bennet already is making favorable impressions in many circles, and he reportedly has deep-pocketed backing. It's also safe to say Romanoff could put up a strong fight as a campaigner and fundraiser. It might come down to a pro-union bill now in Congress, on which Bennet hasn't taken a stance. If he goes against it, Romanoff is all but sure to run with heavy labor backing. If Bennet does say yes to that bill, it might affect Romanoff's hopes.

But we can't talk about possibilities for 2010 and stop there.

Somebody has to oppose Ritter, so Beauprez and Tancredo might compare bank accounts, with one going against Ritter and the other for the Senate. Even if Ritter's re-elected, whenever Obama makes more Cabinet appointments, Ritter could be on that list, and somebody would have to replace him.

Another scenario: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper also might have a shot at the Cabinet. If Hickenlooper leaves, Romanoff could be an ideal Denver mayor.

Then again, Romanoff already knows what can happen when you assume you're the best replacement for somebody else. It doesn't always work out. So for now he's making the rounds of Democratic gatherings, giving pep talks to excite local-level party leaders. But with no hints about his future.

At some point, though, everyone with ambitions for 2010 will have to decide. We should know a lot of answers by Memorial Day.

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