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Hunting Season in Colorado

Senate Democrats and Republicans agree about very little these days.

But there is near unanimity on which Senate seat is the most endangered at this early stage of campaign 2008: Colorado's open seat.

Given Democrats' gains on the state and federal level there over the past two election cycles, this seat would have been a major target whether or not Republican Sen. Wayne Allard decided to seek a third term. Allard's retirement, coupled with the seemingly clear primary field for Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, has put the seat in even greater jeopardy for the GOP.

Republicans recognize their plight. But could they get a lucky break and avoid the kind of late primary that could aid their chances of holding the seat?


The only Republican candidate who is moving toward a run is former Rep. Scott McInnis. McInnis, who held the 3rd district from 1992 to 2004, has formed an exploratory committee to raise money for the race. By all accounts, he is planning to run. McInnis starts the race with a nice nest egg of $943,000 in a House campaign account. All of that cash immediately can be transferred into a Senate committee if McInnis decides to run. But McInnis is seen as a moderate within the party, and that could be a deadly ideological position in a Republican primary.

The other potential contender is former Rep. Bob Schaffer. He lost a Senate primary in 2004. "I haven't decided yet," said Schaffer in an interview with the Fix this week. "I don't have a timeline yet to decide. I'll make the right decision at the right time."

While Schaffer was tight-lipped about his future plans, he was less so when it came to the Fix's previous characterization of him as a social conservative and McInnis as a fiscal conservative. He pointed out that the issues on which he took the strongest stands during his time in Congress and his Senate bid -- tax policy, education and trade -- lie more in the wheelhouse of fiscal conservatives.

"I am a conservative," he said when asked to better explain his ideological positioning. "I am where Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are."

Since Schaffer wouldn't give a clear picture of his intentions, we did some digging. Our informal survey of knowledgeable Colorado Republicans produced a consensus that Schaffer is likely to take a pass on the race. He seemed to provide something of an out during our chat: "If Republicans are not focused on winning than someone else can be the candidate."

Who might that "someone else" be, other than McInnis? Conservatives favor Secretary of State Mike Coffman, but he isn't likely to run. The Republican rumor mill also is batting about the names of retired Air Force Gen. Bentley Rayburn and talk radio host Dan Caplis.

Rayburn ran unsuccessfully in the 5th district Republican primary in 2006. He finished in third place. Caplis is a radio personality and lawyer in the Denver area. Both are viewed as more conservative than McInnis, but neither have the experience or campaign war chest of the former lawmaker.

The state's Republican State Central Committee meets this weekend, and its agenda includes picking a new chairman. (Dick Wadhams, who managed former Virginia Sen. George Allen's 2006 re-election bid, is unopposed for the post.) McInnis is slated to speak to this group of several hundred strongly conservative activists. How they receive him will be a sign indicating whether there is enough unhappiness with him in the Republican ranks to fuel a serious primary challenge.

On an entirely unrelated note, this marks the 1,000th post of The Fix. During that time, the Fix community has contributed 47,642 comments (and counting). Thanks for making The Fix such a fun and rewarding job. Here's to the next 1,000 posts!

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 1, 2007; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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