Aaron's Real Opinions:

Wrong Again
The Art of Choosing Replacements
by Aaron Harber
December 21, 2008- Print Article

Part 1: The Press and Pundits Set the Wrong Stage

There is more than one Governor selecting a new U.S. Senator but Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is getting all the headlines in the selection of Barack Obama's replacement. In Colorado, a politically "clean" state traditionally untainted by political scandal of any kind, Governor Bill Ritter gets to choose a replacement for Senator Ken Salazar who will become the nation's Secretary of the Interior.

While most of Colorado's pundits and political reporters argue the replacement for Senator Salazar to be chosen by Governor Ritter needs to be someone well-known, well-connected in Democratic circles, and capable of raising the millions likely to be needed for his or her 2010 election campaign, once again the criteria are too simplistic if not altogether wrong.

Part 2: The 2010 General Election

It is understandable if Ritter is looking towards 2010 because he is up for reelection and is certain to run. While he has not yet had the success he desired in key areas such as health care, K-12 education, higher education, transportation, and the state budget, and with the failure of both Amendment 59 and his severance tax proposal in the 2008 General Election, it is unlikely he will be able to make as much progress as he had hoped on any of these fronts by November 2, 2010. But that won't and shouldn't stop Ritter from trying.

Unfortunately, the deteriorating national Economy will whipsaw Colorado and tie Ritter's hands. This may allow him to make only marginal strides in the coming months. The Governor, however, recognizes this and is taking the actions he can to protect to protect Colorado as much as possible from the impending financial storm. He also is making whatever efforts he can to aid businesses and employees. The reality, however, is the economic downturn is a national force which dwarfs the ability of the State to overcome what likely will be a nasty one- or two-year period.

Ritter won't give up easily, however, and he will try to achieve significant gains in a number of areas. Nevertheless, the State's dismal financial condition is likely to make any progress difficult, at best. Only an infusion of federal dollars from a bailout plan will offer the financial resources needed to make major gains.

Part 3: Guiding Criteria

In this context, the Governor's choice for the next U.S. Senator from Colorado should be guided by specific criteria. To date, the Governor has not articulated any criteria except to say he wants "the person who can best serve all of the people of Colorado." Unless that means he wants to make a nonpartisan selection (and no one would believe this anyway), his single public criterion does not reveal much.

It would be understandable if Ritter selected someone with whom he personally is comfortable. The Governor and the new Senator will need to work closely together to help Colorado through what is likely to be one of the State's most difficult economic periods. And the two of them will be at the top of the ticket in 2010 so Ritter naturally will want someone who he believes will participate in a coordinated campaign which results in both candidates getting elected.

Yet Ritter knows he is highly likely to get reelected and probably does not need to worry on that score. Coloradans tend to reelect incumbent Governors by huge margins regardless of their performance in office. Ritter remains a very popular Governor and most voters see him as a hardworking public official. In addition, the potential challenger most likely to be able to defeat him --- former U.S. Senator Hank Brown --- already has made it clear he will not be the Republican candidate for Governor in 2010.

Part 4: No Coattails in Colorado

Ritter also knows coattails tend to not exist in Colorado because voters split their tickets in the State often at a rate as high as 80% (i.e., 4 out of 5 voters cast ballots which contain selections from both major parties). This means they make independent decisions on candidates, especially at the top of the ticket. Nevertheless, Ritter certainly wants a positive force on the ticket with him. Knowing today who that will be in two years, however, may be trickier than even the Governor realizes.

Part 5: The Art of Selecting a U.S. Senator

When one looks at the process to select a successor for U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, the reality is the criteria articulated in and by the political Press are not the most relevant ones.  Certainly being well-known is a plus but it will be more important what the new Senator does in the next two years.

Part 6: The Usual Criteria are Irrelevant

It is guaranteed that the person picked to be Colorado's junior Senator will be very well-known in just a matter of months.  Even if Governor Bill Ritter selected a relatively unknown person to go to Washington, his or her name identification across the State will quickly rise to levels competitive with Senator Mark Udall and the Governor himself so being well-known actually is a relatively inconsequential criterion.

Being well-connected in Democratic circles is not relevant because whoever is selected automatically will meet that qualification.  He or she will be seen as the nation's most vulnerable junior Senator.  The result will be the Senate leadership will give Colorado's new Senator key committee and other assignments.  The new President will get involved as well and will help make the new Senator a "star."  And don't forget the new Secretary of the Interior --- Ken Salazar himself --- who is highly likely to help Colorado's junior Senator maintain a high profile, especially given the relevance of Interior to so many issues in Colorado.

Part 7: Fundraising Reality

A third criterion which has been articulated also is insignificant despite its appeal on the surface.  It is the argument the person selected to be Colorado's next Senator should be a prodigious fundraiser.  There is no question that the $10 million which will be required for the 2010 campaign is a daunting task. 

The reality, however, is this contest will be a national race --- eerily identical in many respects to the 2008 race between Democratic Congressman Mark Udall and Republican former Congressman Bob Schaffer.  This means there will be plenty of money available to whomever the candidates are from both major parties.  Plus third-party organizations such as 527's and 501(c)(4)'s will be in full swing no matter who the contestants are.

Part 8: Any Senator Can Fundraise

Fundraising today is a function of the time spent by candidates calling lists they are given attending fundraisers, and meeting with key prospects and groups.  No matter who is selected to be the next U.S. Senator, that person will have the resources to raise the funds he or she needs to win.  Of course, an independently wealthy candidate offers additional advantages today --- as the recent congressional election of Jared Polis amply demonstrated.

Part 9: Differences Between 2008 and 2010 Races

What will be different in the 2010 Senate race compared to the 2008 Senate race is that Udall's win --- fueled in part by a flagging Economy, an unpopular War in Iraq, an even more unpopular Republican presidential administration, an Obama-energized electorate, and a superb candidate (Mark Udall) and campaign --- may not be quite as easy to replicate in 2010.

In 2010, voters will be aware Democrats control the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Iraq will no longer be an issue because the Iraqis have already told us to leave and we have begun that process. George Bush will be a distant memory for many members of the electorate. And the Obama Bailout in 2009 will have dwarfed what Bush did in 2008 --- making the new President and Democrats appear more responsible for the state of the Economy than they likely deserve. It likely will be on these issues the 2010 election will be decided.

So, if the popular opinions about what Ritter's selection criteria should be are wrong and he believes economic and political conditions in 2010 will be dramatically different than conditions today in 2008, what should his selection criteria be for Colorado's next U.S. Senator?

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