Allard says he won't seek a third term

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) announced Monday that he will honor a term-limit pledge and will not run for a third term in 2008, forgoing what was almost sure to be one of the toughest reelection bids in the country.

Allard’s exit creates the first open Senate seat of the 2008 campaign and unlocks the gates to several GOP candidates who have made their intentions contingent on his decision.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) announced in 2005 that he would run for the seat, and Allard’s announcement means Udall’s early decision should help him clear what could have been a crowded field.

Allard had labored over the matter since the 2006 election and said he would announce a decision this month. He said, in the end, he couldn’t back away from the term-limit pledge.

He said he was unfazed by the prospect of starting the campaign as an even-money bet or an underdog, but politics did play into the timing.

“I made the announcement at this time because I was encouraged by both the national and local party in Colorado to make the announcement and give them two years’ notice so they could have a chance to develop some candidates for the race,” Allard said.

Two Republicans with recent statewide campaigning experience — former Gov. Bill Owens (R) and former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), who lost a bid to succeed Owens in November — both have been mentioned as potential replacements for Allard. Owens, who was term-limited, has said he’s not considering a run. Beauprez, who lost 57-40 to now-Gov. Bill Ritter (D), left his options open after the loss.

Former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) has said he would run if neither Owens nor Allard does. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R), former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R), Attorney General John Suthers (R) and former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway have also been mentioned as possible candidates.

Tancredo, an immigration hard-liner, was in Iowa this weekend weighing a presidential bid.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) is a possible Democratic candidate. Udall has $1.3 million cash on hand.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), the new chairman of National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), pointed to President Bush’s wins in the state — 51-42 in 2000 and 52-47 in 2004 — as evidence that it is still fertile ground for Republicans.

“Republicans will retain the seat currently held by Sen. Allard, and the NRSC will do everything in its power to ensure the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited effective government returns to the people of Colorado in November 2008,” Ensign said.

Allard, whom Time Magazine named in 2006 one of the five worst senators, has a reputation as a quiet, relatively unknown back-bencher but a strong campaigner. In 2002, he overcame polls that predicted doom to win reelection 51-46 over Democrat Tom Strickland, whom he beat by the same margin in 1996.

The questions about Allard’s term-limit pledge began at about the same time thanks to his suggestion that he might not keep it.

The intensity peaked after November’s election, thanks to gains in the state by Democrats. Along with Ritter’s win, Democrat Ed Perlmutter won Beauprez’s vacated House seat.

The Democratic National Committee announced last week that it would hold its 2008 presidential nominating convention in Denver, further bolstering the state’s new reputation as a battleground.

Colorado had an open-seat Senate contest in 2004, when Democrat Ken Salazar beat Republican Pete Coors 51-47 to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R).