June 4, 2015 — Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has cleared his first major re-election obstacle. Sitting in realistically what could be one of two offensive Republican targets – the Nevada open seat being the other – Bennet will not have to face the man largely viewed as his most difficult potential opponent.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was heavily recruiting four-term Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6). He rose to the top of their prospective candidate list after winning two costly and difficult re-election campaigns in a Denver suburban court-drawn district basically designed to elect a Democrat. On Tuesday, Coffman confirmed that he will not challenge Sen. Bennet next year, choosing to seek re-election.
In a way, the Coffman decision is somewhat curious because it is arguable that his re-election campaign under a presidential turnout model could be just as difficult as running statewide. In his last two campaigns, Coffman spent a combined $8.5 million to win 48 and 52 percent victories.
His successful 2012 campaign against state Rep. Joe Miklosi (who spent $1.6 million) could be a precursor for 2016. With potential independents present on the ballot, Coffman could again win with only a plurality. Last November, against former state House Speaker and US Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D) who spent $5.1 million on his race ($500,000 more than Coffman), the congressman took advantage of a Republican wave to secure a 52-43 percent win arguably the best GOP performance possible in a district where President Obama captured 52 and 54 percent in 2012 and 2008, respectively.
Right now, only former state Rep. Ed Casso (D) has announced intentions to challenge Coffman. But with the situation now clearer, stronger contenders could soon be coming forward.
Without representatives Coffman and Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) as Senate candidates (Tipton said he was considering running earlier in the year but will also seek re-election to the House) the Republican ranks look thin. El Paso County (Colorado Springs) Commissioner Darryl Glenn (R) is in the race, and the names now most frequently mentioned are state Senate President Bill Cadman (R) and Pro Tempore Ellen Roberts (R). Such a weaker opponent field would make Sen. Bennet the clear favorite heading into the election year.
Bennet was originally appointed to the Senate (January 2009) after then-Sen. Ken Salazar (D) resigned to become US Energy Secretary in the Obama Administration. He was elected in his own right the following year, first winning a competitive Democratic primary against Romanoff, 54-46 percent, and then defeating district attorney (and now 4th District congressman) Ken Buck (R), 48-46 percent, in the general election.