Poll: Hickenlooper, Salazar’s brother outperform Salazar against GOP foes

Two of the leading contenders to fill Ken Salazar’s Senate seat perform better against potential Republican opponents than Salazar himself, according to a poll released Friday. “Could Ken Salazar’s move from the Senate to Interior Secretary actually be a good thing for Colorado Democrats?” Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen asks, pointing to results that show Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Salazar’s older brother John, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, scoring higher than the sitting senator in hypothetical match-ups with potential GOP candidates in the 2010 election.

“Usually when a Senator leaves office the conventional wisdom is that the seat is opened up to a higher level of competition,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling (PPP), in a release. “The truth in this case is that Ken Salazar’s approval numbers were not exactly out of the park, and it looks like either John Hickenlooper or his brother would start out in good shape for a 2010 reelection run.”

PPP released a poll Thursday that showed Hickenlooper and John Salazar leading a field of potential nominees to replace Ken Salazar, who was nominated earlier this week to be the Obama administration’s next secretary of the Interior. Gov. Bill Ritter has said he plans to fill the vacancy “quickly,” even though the senator doesn’t plan to step down until he’s been confirmed for the Cabinet post.

The polling firm asked voters to chose between the two Democrats and former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and outgoing 6th District Rep. Tom Tancredo, two Republicans with high statewide profiles who have been mentioned as possible Senate contenders in 2010, when the seat comes up for election next. Neither of the Republicans have said they’re interested in the race, but the results offer a comparison with Ken Salazar’s performance against them in earlier polls.

Hickenlooper posts the widest margin in the match-ups, besting Tancredo by 17 points, but both the mayor and the congressman lead in every contest against the Republicans. “If appointed, it looks like either Hickenlooper or Salazar would enter the 2010 race in good position to be reelected,” Jensen writes on the firm’s blog, “at least against this pair of potential foes.”

Here are Friday’s results:

John Hickenlooper 54
Bill Owens 40

John Hickenlooper 54
Tom Tancredo 37

John Salazar 52
Bill Owens 43

John Salazar 53
Tom Tancredo 40

In July, PPP waged a contest between Ken Salazar and Owens:

Ken Salazar 44
Bill Owens 41

In August, the polling firm asked voters to chose between Ken Salazar and Tancredo:

Ken Salazar 49
Tom Tancredo 37

Delving into the results for the potential replacements, PPP finds the Democrats lead by at least 19 points among unaffiliated voters and each wins at least 16 percent support among Republicans.

“We just start exploring possibilities,” Debnam told the Colorado Independent, noting that PPP put the poll in the field on its own to “get our name out there.” The firm, usually hired by Democrats, polled extensively in Colorado during the general election.

It’s worth noting that virtually any Democrat might poll better against Republicans this month than they would have over the summer, as the economic crisis and a decisive election have helped turn voters against the GOP by huge margins. In addition, Ken Salazar’s prospects for 2010 looked rosier this month than the July and August PPP surveys indicated.