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December 23, 2008

Sleeper pick for Salazar seat?

There is one intriguing sleeper candidate getting buzz as a possible successor for Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, who is leaving the Senate to serve as President-elect Barack Obama’s interior secretary.

The candidate is Democratic State Senate President Peter Groff, the highest-ranking African-American elected official in Colorado history.* If Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) appointed Groff, he would ensure there would be at least one African-American in the Senate. There aren’t currently any serving in the Senate since Obama resigned his seat.

Groff has been mentioned on most of the speculative lists of candidates, but isn’t considered a top-tier contender to win the appointment.

Groff has a strong resume. He quickly moved up the ranks in the state legislature after being elected to the state House in 2000. Before that, he served as an adviser to former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. One Democratic operative in Colorado called him the “best public speaker” of all the prospective candidates in either party.

And by making an outside-the-box selection, Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colo.) would get some national attention as he prepares to face his own tough reelection campaign in two years.

The negatives: Groff hasn’t been tested politically, as he represents a solidly Democratic legislative district in Denver. He has an eight-year voting record that Republicans could scrutinize in a general election. And he would have to demonstrate he can raise the millions necessary for a statewide race in 2010.

Currently the favorites appear to be: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), with state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff also in contention.

Ritter’s spokesman said that the governor hopes to have a successor in place before the new Congress is sworn in on January 6.

*  UPDATE: A reader notes that Colorado has had two African-American lieutenant governors, George Brown (1975-1979) and Joe Rogers (2003-2007).