Republican hopes of quickly reclaiming a Senate majority suffered an early blow Monday when a GOP senator from Colorado announced he would not seek reelection in 2008, opening a seat in a state where Democrats have won key recent races.
Sen. Wayne Allard said he had decided to honor the pledge he made when first elected to his office in 1996 to serve only two terms.
Little known outside his own state, Allard was expected to be a prime target for Democrats as part of their bid to retain the Senate majority they gained in the 2006 election.
“It wasn’t as if he was beloved,” said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington. “It was always going to be a difficult race for Republicans.”
But with Allard off the ballot, the Democrats will not have to battle the benefits of incumbency in trying to win the seat.
Allard’s decision comes at a time when Democrats are working to make more inroads across the once solidly Republican Mountain West.
In November, Democrats picked up a key Senate seat in Montana when Jon Tester defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns.
And in Colorado, the party picked up a House seat and the governor’s office, following up on a major victory in 2004 when Democrat Ken Salazar won a Senate seat previously held by a Republican.
Largely as an outgrowth of their focus on the interior West, the Democrats announced last week that they would hold their 2008 presidential nominating convention in Denver. The gathering will help spotlight the Democrat in the Colorado Senate race.
Democrats surprised experts by picking up six Senate seats in the 2006 midterm election, giving them a one-vote majority in the chamber. The GOP plans an all-out effort to regain control, but political arithmetic is working against them -- of the 33 Senate seats on the ballot in 2008, 21 are held by Republicans.
The Iraq war, which helped drive Democratic victories last year, also is likely to weigh on Republican incumbents, particularly in states that voted Democratic in the last several presidential elections.
Among GOP senators considered most at risk in 2008 are Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon. They have sought to distance themselves from President Bush by opposing his new plan to send additional troops to Iraq.
Among Colorado Democrats, Rep. Mark Udall, son of former Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona, already had been laying the groundwork for a senatorial campaign. Another potentially strong Democratic candidate is Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper.
Several Republicans are being watched as possible candidates for Allard’s seat, including former Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Tom Tancredo, a leader of the push to crack down on illegal immigrants. There also has been speculation that former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway might run.
Allard, 63, is a veterinarian who served in the House for six years before winning his Senate seat. He faced a hard-fought reelection campaign in 2002, defeating his Democratic opponent by about five percentage points.
Allard announced his plans to step down after 2008 at a news conference in Denver.
“In an age when promises are cast away as quickly as yesterday’s newspaper, I believe a promise made is a promise kept,” he said. “The people of Colorado placed their trust in me based on my promise to them to serve no more than two terms, and it was very important to me to not dishonor that trust.”