Forget Ritter, can McInnis even make it past Penry?

The question is no longer whether Scott McInnis would have beaten Mark Udall in last year’s U.S. Senate race – a suggestion he made to the Colorado Independent that touched off a minor firestorm last fall – but just how he’ll fare getting the GOP nod to take on Gov. Bill Ritter next year.

McInnis, a former six-term Republican congressman from the Western Slope, stealthily made his bid official this week — a curiously quiet filing with Colorado’s secretary of state first reported by political blog Colorado Pols.

Colorado Ethics Watch claims they put the heat on McInnis, ultimately forcing him to file candidacy forms after allegedly engaging in campaign activities and fund-raising efforts for weeks.

A message McInnis left last month on the voice mail of a potential donor was exposed by a conservative Web site that might have been dishing out a bit of revenge for McInnis’ swipe at Bob Schaffer, who lost by a wide margin to Udall in November.

All of the intrigue — and the somewhat bumbling campaign kickoff, if that’s what this is — suggests McInnis is no lock to take on Ritter, who appears to be vulnerable according to polls. McInnis could face the most resistance in his own party from his former D.C. staffer and current Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry.

Both hail from Grand Junction these days, and both have deep ties to the state’s oil and gas industry, which would love to see Ritter’s New Energy Economy derailed.

But while Penry is a rising star, McInnis doesn’t have the statewide name recognition he once had, and even on the Western Slope, former Republican strongholds like Eagle and Garfield counties have turned a little bluer in recent years.

McInnis’s campaign tactics are purely old-school, though. Shadow gubernatorial campaign aside, the former Glenwood Springs cop pumped funds into a 527 group that sought to bolster energy interests in gas-rich Garfield County last fall, and he was the subject of a 2005 campaign finance probe focusing on funds paid to his wife, Lori, after McInnis announced he wouldn’t run again.

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