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Dick Wadhams thinks Bill Ritter was done in by sucky poll numbers, a bad environment for Dems -- and the Stephanie Villafuerte nomination?

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Colorado Republican Party chieftain Dick Wadhams plans to attend the 11 a.m. press conference today at which Bill Ritter is expected to announce that he won't be a candidate for governor in November, in part to bid farewell.

"After we get done with the press conference, Bill Ritter will be ancient history, and the campaign will be focused on whoever their candidate will be," Wadhams says. "We won't focus much on Bill Ritter after that."

But until then, he's happy to talk about what brought Ritter down -- including, he suspects, the bungled nomination for U.S. Attorney of Stephanie Villafuerte.

Wadhams isn't exactly shedding tears about Ritter departing the scene. "There's no doubt that as chairman of the party here, I have to take some satisfaction in the notion that he decided he can't win reelection. Regardless of what he says today, that's what his withdrawal means. We tried to make a case against him and his policies for the last three years, so we feel good about that."

Speculation is rife that the national Democratic Party pressured Ritter to raise the white flag -- something that a couple of other embattled Dems, Connecticut's Christopher Dodd and North Dakota's Byron Dorgan, are doing as well. Wadhams bets these moves were related.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the White House is very involved in these major races," he allows. "The rap on the Bush White House is that the political operation was way too involved in those kinds of things. But with all due respect to my friend Karl Rove, what he was doing pales in comparison to what this White House is doing. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but I do think the White House is involved in these decisions.

"How much involvement they had in Denver, I don't know," he continues. "But I can't help but think they went to Bill Ritter and said, 'Your poll numbers suck and the national environment is horrible, and the combination of those two factors is lethal -- so you'd better step aside for somebody else."

In addition, Wadhams says, "I think there's a third element, and I don't know what it is. I can't help but think there's still some splashback from the Villafuerte nomination. I don't know what other shoe could still drop on that. But I think there's a third factor -- something else at work here."

Unlike Scott McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy, interviewed earlier today, Wadhams isn't ready to declare any Dem who follows Ritter to be a member of the b-team. "They're all formidable in their own way, but I also think they have their own weaknesses, just as Governor Ritter did.

"Take Ken Salazar. He would be coming home from the Obama administration. Well, guess what: The Obama administration is largely responsible for Democrats across the country finding themselves in free fall. Mayor Hickenlooper, he's immensely popular in Denver, but the state goes well beyond the city limits. And Andrew Romanoff is the mirror image of Ritter. He largely drove home the agenda that made Ritter weak."

Like Duffy, Wadhams predicts that the national Dems will pour big money into the governor's race here, for a couple of reasons.

"Part of it is pride," he believes. "This is where they nominated Barack Obama, and Colorado has been held up as a great success story in the last three election cycles. But more important, Colorado will be front and center in the presidential campaign of 2012, and having a Republican governor in Colorado is probably not what they want in that election scenario."

Is there any part of Wadhams that wishes Ritter had chosen to stick around?

"I regret that this fight didn't follow on to its conclusion," he admits. "I think Coloradans deserve a strenuous debate on whether the policies of Bill Ritter were what they wanted, of if they'd prefer the policies of a Scott McInnis or a Dan Maes -- although Scott is clearly our frontrunner now. Having Bill Ritter out of the race somewhat detracts from that. But it'll still be the backdrop of the campaign."

Which starts a new phase within the hour.

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