Former speaker eyes Bennet challenge

The former speaker of the Colorado state House is preparing to challenge appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

Local media reports indicate Andrew Romanoff, a four-term state representative who presided over the Colorado State House when Democrats took a majority in 2006, has begun calling allies and telling them he will run against Bennet. Bennet was appointed to replace Ken Salazar, who left the Senate to head President Obama's Interior Department.

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Romanoff did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Saturday.

He considered running for governor in 2006, when many Democrats were concerned over then-Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter's (D) chances. But Romanoff turned down entreaties into the race and Ritter eventually won the governorship.

Romanoff is well-known in political circles, but it is unclear how widely he is known around the state. Bennet, though, has never run for office. He was serving as Superintendent of the Denver Public School system when he Ritter picked him, a choice that surprised many political observers in the state. But Bennet has proven adept at one key to campaigning. He has pulled in $2.65 million in campaign contributions during his first six months in office.

Still, both Democrats and Republicans have put pressure on Bennet, each side using the Employee Free Choice Act as the cudgel. Bennet is not a co-sponsor of the bill and has yet to take a position on it. That has irritated labor leaders on the left.

But Republicans have used the measure, also called "card check," to suggest Bennet will be a rubber stamp for Democratic interest groups. The bill would make it easier for workers to organize.

Labor groups, who see Romanoff as a close ally, had pushed him to challenge Ritter in a primary in the governor’s race. It remains unclear how enthusiastically unions will back a challenge to Bennet. A primary fight could weaken the Democratic nominee in the general election.

Republicans meanwhile have had a difficult time recruiting a candidate. Ex-Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) said earlier this week he would not run, and ex-Rep. Scott McInnis (R) is running for governor. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck is expected to drop his own bid next week.

Republicans may have a new hope. Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who served in popular Gov. Bill Owens' administration, is said to be considering joining the race. She would join Aurora City Councilmember Ryan Frazier and Cleve Tidwell, a conservative businessman from Denver.

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