As Tom notes below, Democrats have yet another Senate vacancy on their hands. The soon-to-be open seat belongs to Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar, who will be resigning to serve as Secretary of the Interior. As with Delaware, New York, and maybe Illinois (pending legal or legislative action), the power to choose a replacement falls to a Democratic Governor, in this case Bill Ritter. Elected in a landslide in 2006, Ritter is unlikely to squander a promising career by appointing himself. Unlike David Paterson and Rod Blagojevich, Ritter has solid enough standing in his own party that he can pick the candidate likeliest to win in 2010, without worrying too much about political ramifications for himself. So here are Salon’s picks, ranked in descending order of probability:
John Hickenlooper: A huge success as mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper has flirted with running for higher office for years now. He’s repeatedly shown interest, then demurred. The chance to take office without having to run for a couple of years might be too much to turn down.
Diana DeGette: A liberal representative from a solidly Democratic, Denver-based congressional district, DeGette has been a leader in the House on health care and energy. She might have to tack right slightly for 2010, but that wasn’t an obstacle for now-Senator Mark Udall, also a former representative from a liberal district.
Ed Perlmutter: With fewer terms in Congress and a district that would be harder to hold on to, rising star Perlmutter would be a very similar pick to DeGette, only with more disadvantages. Still, his suburban base might make him slightly more palatable statewide, so don’t count him out.
Andy Romanoff: Finishing up as state House Speaker because of term limits, Romanoff is a young and well-liked wonk. And we know he’s in Ritter’s good graces, because a committee recommended him to the governor for consideration to fill the empty secretary of state job. On the other hand, state representative to U.S. senator is a pretty big jump.
Michael Bennet: Just passed over for Secretary of Education, Bennet is the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools and a former Hickenlooper chief of staff. He’s got an impressive resume and serious reformist credentials. However, Bennet’s never run for office before, and though he’d have two years to learn, that may not be enough time.
John Salazar: Here’s an obvious-seeming choice. The brother of the outgoing senator, John is a veteran, a congressman from Colorado’s rural Western Slope, and shares his brother’s moderate Western style. But any appointment with even the appearance of favoritism or outside pressure is probably a no-go in the post-Blagojevich world.