Could Republican disarray lure Bill Owens into Senate race?

With Democrats worrying about a possible challenge to Senate appointee Michael Bennet by former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, Republicans ought to like their chances in the race for that seat, slated for 2010. Instead, they can't settle on a viable candidate. Announced contestants such as Ryan Frazier left the National Republican Senatorial Committee with such an empty feeling that the organization has registered a couple of domain names on behalf of Jane Norton, Bill Owens' former lieutenant governor, should she be coaxed into seeking the office. Not that the mere mention of Norton has convinced other hopefuls to drop out and run away in terror. Indeed, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who had reportedly been thinking about withdrawing, decided to stick around after the Norton revelations went public, to the bewildered shrugs of electoral observers.

All of which explains why politicos continue to wonder if there's a scenario under which Owens might enter the fray. After all, he was listed as the only state Republican who could beat Bennet in a January poll: Read a document synopsizing the findings after the jump.

True, Owens has been mighty definitive about his disinterest, as he demonstrated in a March interview with The Colorado Statesmen. Here's how he put it at the time:

Am I burned out? No. Loved it. Thought it was great. I wasn't embittered, left with pretty good numbers, know I did a good job. But I just don't want to do it anymore. People can't believe that. I was talking to Governor (George) Pataki of New York, and he'd been governor 12 years. He said, "Everybody thinks I still want to do it, and I don't." I mean, when I see the blizzards come in or the forest fires, I think, "Boy! Am I glad I don't have to get on the helicopter today!"

Potential drawbacks to an Owens run are few. Back in 2004, when he separated from his wife, Frances, an incredible barrage of rumors circulated, claiming everything from affairs with co-workers to children born out of wedlock. But none of them stuck, and these days, Owens' combination of high name-recognition and popularity among both committed Republicans and centrists from either party is unmatched by fellow Colorado conservatives. As such, Republican party types will continue to dream about an Owens candidacy until a truly compelling opponent for Bennet surfaces. And at this point, that's looking iffier than anyone would have suspected.

Early Polling Numbers on Michael Bennet January 27, 2009

Raleigh, N.C. - Public Policy Polling's newest Colorado survey finds a plurality of voters in the state still have no opinion of Michael Bennet- although he gets pretty solid marks from those who do.

33% of Coloradans view Bennet favorably, while 21% have a negative opinion of him. 46% are ambivalent at this point. One particularly good sign in the numbers for Bennet as he looks toward reelection is that among Democrats only 7% view him unfavorably. That would seem to indicate a relative lack of discord within the party over his appointment that might help him avoid a primary challenge in two years.

PPP also tested Bennet in hypothetical 2010 contests against Republicans Scott McInnis, Bill Owens, Tom Tancredo, and John Suthers. Bennet led in each of the match ups except the one against Owens, where he trailed 44-41. Still, there's an argument to be made that a three point deficit isn't bad against an eight year Governor for someone most voters in the state had never heard of two months ago.

Bennet leads McInnis and Suthers by 6, and Tancredo by 9.

"Michael Bennet's standing is pretty solid for this very early stage of his career as a Senator," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "He still needs to become better known to a lot of the state's voters, but he seems to be pretty well liked by those who have already formed an opinion about him"...

PPP surveyed 959 Colorado voters between January 23rd and 25th. The survey's margin of error is +/-3.16%. Other factors, such as refusal to be interviewed and weighting, may introduce additional error that is more difficult to quantify.

Complete results are attached and can be found at

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts