A few weeks ago, Diana DeGette, Colorado's representative for the 1st Congressional District, had lunch with Ken Salazar, the Colorado senator who'd early on been rumored to be in the running for a position in the Barack Obama cabinet. "No, it's not going to happen," he told her.
Yesterday, it happened: Obama named Salazar as the next Secretary of the Interior.
The rumors that Salazar was back in the mix surfaced a few days ago -- and that's when DeGette's phone started ringing. As the senior member of Colorado's nine-member congressional delegation, she was an obvious candidate to be considered for Salazar's soon-to-be-empty Senate seat. And that, of course, would leave her spot in the very safely Democratic Denver district wide open.
None of those callers told her flat-out that they'd like her seat, DeGette says. "But I'm sure several were interested."
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And is DeGette interested in moving on to the Senate? On Tuesday, she talked with Governor Bill Ritter, who will appoint Salazar's successor, and told him she's planning to "look closely at this position." There are two major considerations for Ritter to consider in his succession plan, she points out: Who can represent the entire state, and who can get re-elected in two years -- and raise the $10 million to $15 million that will be required for a campaign in 2010.
Then there's the fact that DeGette is the only member of the state's congressional delegation in a leadership position, and that's not a spot to give up lightly. "We have a really new delegation," she points out. "We need to figure out the best thing for Colorado." And after all her time in the House, with Obama in office she's finally in a position to really push some of her major concerns -- stem-cell research, children's health care, health-care reform, global climate change and a wilderness bill she's been working on since 1999.
And before she'd make a play for the Senate seat, DeGette would also need to consider her family, since the upcoming campaign would involve a lot of travel across the state.
But it's the time, not the territory, that's the issue. Although pundits have pointed out that DeGette could never get elected in a statewide contest because "she's too liberal," DeGette has a fast answer for that. Mark Udall was labeled as the most liberal politician in the state by Republican Bob Schaffer in the 2008 Senate race -- and Udall beat him by more than ten points. -- Patricia Calhoun