Poll: Ritter takes hit among Hispanic voters after Bennet appointment

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter “may have some fence-mending to do” with Hispanic voters after choosing Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, rather than picking another Hispanic politician, according to a survey released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). Ritter saw his support among Hispanics tumble by 28 points since mid-December, when Salazar opened up the Senate vacancy by accepting a nod to be secretary of the interior.

“Bill Ritter would probably be re-elected if the election was now,” PPP president Dean Debnam said in a letter accompanying the survey’s release. “But, he’s certainly not unbeatable, and it could be a competitive race next year with the right Republican candidate.”

From the North Carolina polling firm’s blog post on Ritter’s downward spiral with Hispanic voters:

Our newest poll finds Ritter’s approval rating at 47/40. That +7 net approval rating is a drop from when it was +13 at 49/36 in mid-December shortly after it was announced Salazar would become Interior Secretary. Almost all the downward movement for Ritter since that time has come with Hispanics. Where before the Bennet appointment his approval with that group was 54/30, it’s now slightly negative at 44/48. He may have some fence-mending to do there.

The same December PPP poll showed 50 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters wanted Ritter to appoint either former Denver Mayor Federico Peña or Rep. John Salazar, who is the former senator’s older brother.

After Ritter named Bennet to the Senate — and the DPS board picked Bennet’s lieutenant, Tom Boasberg, to take over as schools chief — a group of prominent Hispanic politicians slammed the governor. Earlier, Ritter appointed outgoing state Rep. Bernie Buescher to the vacant secretary of state post, bypassing applicant Rosemary Rodriguez, a former Denver City Council president who currently serves as one of the nation’s top voter-enforcement officials.

The Denver Post’s Christopher Osher reported:

During a news conference Friday afternoon, nearly 20 influential Latinos appeared at the Denver Public Schools administration building to register their complaints.

Former Denver Councilwoman Ramona Martinez said the selection of Boasberg is the latest in a string of disappointments for Latinos. …

“We are disappointed that our voices continue to be ignored by the many who we help to get elected,” Martinez said.

“Our community seems to be on the outside looking in when decisions are made that affect our everyday lives,” she added. “Our voices are always needed at election, but we are seldom asked when the decisions are made.”

Ritter has some time to repair the damage with Colorado Hispanics — the fastest-growing group of voters in the state — PPP’s Tom Jensen writes, and he still leads potential challengers.

In a hypothetical rematch with 2006 opponent Bob Beauprez, Ritter leads 46-40, an outcome much closer than Ritter’s 57-40 victory the first time around. That’s in spite of the fact that Beauprez is not viewed at all positively by most voters in the state, with 45% holding an unfavorable opinion of him compared to only 31% who have a favorable opinion of him. Beauprez leads Ritter 50-36 with the usually reliably Democratic Hispanic demographic in that contest.

Ritter has a much more comfortable lead, 52-38, in a possible contest against former Congressman Tom Tancredo. He has a 53-35 lead with Hispanics in that match up, no great surprise given Tancredo’s choice of issues to beat the drum on during his time in Washington.

Both Beauprez and Tancredo have said they’re considering a run for either senator or governor in 2010, but neither has decided.

The survey, conducted at the same time as one released Tuesday about Bennet’s approval ratings, reached 959 Colorado voters by telephone from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.16 percent, PPP said. Read the full crosstabs of the Ritter survey here.

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