In some ways, the appointment would be a very smart political move: Salazar (whom I almost worked for long ago) can act as Obama's sherpa on the water, agriculture, and land-use issues that Democrats need to master if they want to build on their majorities in the Mountain West. And the fact that Ken and his brother John are minor Hispanic political icons, of course, can't hurt.
But booting Ken upstairs also runs the grave risk of losing his senate seat to the GOP in 2010. Colorado's newly-energetic left wing is elated to see the centrist Salazar go, but Republicans have already made winning this seat a priority and it would be hubris to think Colorado wouldn't vote for the right Republican ... maybe, oh, John Elway (who has plenty of leadership experience), Scott McInnis, John Suthers, or a reconstructed Governor Bill Owens ... in a pinch.
The Colorado Independent says Governor Ritter is mulling the following replacements (as in New York, Delaware, and Illinois, there's a quasi-dynastic quality to some of the picks):
"Those close to the Salazars" say they'd urge Ritter to appoint John Salazar to the Senate--which would set off another scramble to fill his 3rd District House seat--but the powerful appropriations seat might keep the Manassas Democrat in the House.
Other possibilities include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, outgoing Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who served as secretary of transportation and energy during the Clinton administration. Pena, an early Obama backer, is also a key member of the transition team.
Several of these figures, like Romanoff, are popular among progressives because of roles they played in the 2006 and 2008 elections. But Hickenlooper, Salazar, and Pena are probably the only ones with enough statewide recognition and street cred to knock off a Republican challenger two years from now. Here's to hoping Tom Tancredo somehow wins the GOP primary.