Politico calls Groff ‘sleeper’ candidate to take over Salazar’s Senate seat

If Bill Ritter is making a list, he’d better be checking it twice, because the cast of candidates to fill Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat keeps shifting. On Tuesday, Politico pegged state Senate President Peter Groff as the “intriguing sleeper candidate getting buzz” to win the governor’s nod to finish the term of Sen. Ken Salazar, who is leaving the Senate to be interior secretary.

By reaching “outside-the-box” for Groff, who has the distinction of being the highest-ranking African American politician in state history, Ritter could make sure the Senate has at least one African American — none remain after President-elect Barack Obama left the Senate in November — and get some national buzz of his own as he prepares for a tough re-election campaign in 2010, Josh Kraushaar writes. One Democratic leader calls Groff the “best public speaker” of all the potential Senate candidates in both parties, Kraushaar reports.

Groff — who shows up on lists as a possible Salazar replacement but isn’t usually ranked in the top tier — was first elected to a northeast Denver state House seat in 2000 and rapidly ascended the legislative ladder, winning appointment to a state Senate seat in 2003. After the selection of House Speaker Terrance Carroll to that leadership position in November, Colorado became the first state in the nation to have African American lawmakers leading both chambers of its legislature.

Politico’s caveats:

The negatives: Groff hasn’t been tested politically, as he represents a solidly-Democratic legislative district in Denver. He has an eight-year voting record that Republicans could scrutinize in a general election. And he would have to demonstrate he can raise the millions necessary for a statewide race in 2010.

Should Groff be plucked from his state Senate post, it could set off a contained scramble to replace him. Only one state House member lives in Groff’s state Senate district — Carroll, who could be unwilling to leave his new leadership position to be the most junior member of the upper house.

Ritter has said he plans to name Salazar’s replacement “quickly” — which could mean before Congress swears in on Jan. 6, Politico writes.

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