THE GOVERNOR’S RACE
WHO IS IN, WHO IS OUT AND WHO IS STILL CONTEMPLATING
Buckle up, Democrats. With Ken Salazar no longer running for governor, the primary to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2018 is about to go into hyperdrive.
The simple reason is power — as in now there’s a power vacuum.
Among Colorado Democrats, Salazar boasts an unrivaled résumé as a former U.S. senator and interior secretary, not to mention his close ties to Hillary Clinton. All of those tools would have made him a formidable opponent, in spite of their potential to hurt him among his party’s anti-establishment wing.
Now Salazar gets to play kingmaker in a primary that has drawn interest from several prominent Democrats. The winner will face a similarly wide-open field on the Republican side of the race.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada said Thursday
the “chances are very good” he will run, and party strategists said they expect the congressman to declare his candidacy soon.
Businessman Noel Ginsburg and former state Sen. Mike Johnston already have jumped in the race. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder has not ruled it out either, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne remains a wild-card contender.
In a statement issued Thursday, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy said she is “seriously considering” a campaign to replace Hickenlooper.
“We have never really seen — in recent memory — a wide-open Democratic race like this,” said Curtis Hubbard of the leftleaning OnSight Public Affairs firm. “It leaves the door open for people who have been talking about or considering a run.”
Perlmutter said in an interview that Salazar’s announcement was unexpected even though the two men had talked about the 2018 contest. “He’s a good friend. He would have been a heck of a governor, and he’s been encouraging me to take a look at this race and I’m doing that very seriously.”
Perlmutter has served in the U.S. House since 2007 and has been on different sides of the power structure within the Democratic party. In 2015, he golfed with then-President Barack Obama but Perlmutter later backed Ohio congressman Tim Ryan in his upstart — and ultimately unsuccessful — attempt to dethrone Nancy Pelosi as the top Democrat in the lower chamber.
One area where Perlmutter played a prominent role was with the construction of a new Veterans Af- fairs hospital in Aurora; a project that nearly was derailed because of mismanagement and budget overruns.
“Despite its bumps and bruises (it) is now moving along and will provide excellent care for our veterans,” he said.
In Polis, he would face an opponent who has carved out a niche on technology and education, and who has a huge reserve of personal wealth to draw upon for a political campaign. The Boulder Democrat is one of the richest members of Congress; his net worth recently was estimated at more than $90 million.
“I haven’t ruled anything out and I’m not going to be rushed into a premature decision by today’s news,” Polis said in an interview.
But he said a key issue remains economic equality. “We have to find a way that every Coloradan can participate in our economic growth and feel that all the changes that are occurring are working to their benefit, rather than their detriment,” he said.
Polis and Perlmutter have served alongside each other in Congress since Polis joined the House in 2009. Former Democratic state chair Rick Palacio said that an intraparty fight between the pair would be intense.
“I think it becomes a very competitive primary if the two of them run against each other,” said Palacio, adding that both had networks to raise money for a gubernatorial bid.
Even so, Colorado’s strict campaign-finance limits give an advantage to candidates who can either draw upon personal wealth or earn the backing of outside groups that can spend on their behalf.
“It will be interesting to see who among those groups will spend in primary,” Hubbard said.