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Ready to replace your congressman

DENVER ” Rep. Mark Udall’s intention to run for the U.S. Senate has set off a scramble for his House seat.

The winner of the Democratic primary is almost guaranteed to win the election in the majority-Democratic district that includes Eagle County.

Among top Democrats looking at the potential open seat in 2008 are three lawmakers, Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, Rep. Alice Madden and Sen. Ron Tupa, along with Colorado Conservation Trust executive director Will Shafroth and Jared Polis, a former member of the state Board of Education and a wealthy entrepreneur.

Madden, the House majority leader, said the vacancy would be the “chance of a lifetime” for a Democrat seeking higher office if Udall, also a Democrat, decides not to run again.

Fitz-Gerald, the Senate president, said if Udall is moving on, she’s in.

“I’ve never been coy about it. That is something I’d like to do,” she said.

No Republicans have publicly indicated an interest in Udall’s 2nd District seat. State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Broomfield Republican, said he has no plans to enter the race because of the numerical disadvantage.

“I don’t think I’m a good fit,” Mitchell said.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 143,000 to 123,000 in the district. It stretches from Weld County in the north to Jefferson County in the south and runs west to Eagle, Summit and Grand counties.

Udall has not formally announced for the Senate but says he plans to run. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican, said this week he will retire when his term ends in January 2009, leaving an open seat.

Fitz-Gerald said issues critical to the district include protecting the environment, wildlife and natural resources and dealing with illegal immigrants, issues she said she has also been forced to deal with as leader of the 35-member Senate.

She said a number of Republicans, including members of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups, vote for Democrats because they want to protect open space and the environment.

Shafroth said his environmental record would be a big advantage in the district. He is a former head of Great Outdoors Colorado, which distributes conservation and open-space grants from state lottery proceeds, and now heads the Colorado Conservation Trust, a nonprofit that raises money for conservation projects.

Tupa and Madden both said they are looking at the race, but both have young children and said family concerns could trump opportunity.

“If it were five years from now, I’d jump in with both feet. It’s a chance of a lifetime” Madden said.

Tupa said he expects a crowded field.

Polis said he won’t decide until after Udall officially declares for the Senate. He also refused to say whether he would spend his own money on a race, the big question other Democrats are asking.

“It’s a fair question ” if I run,” he said.

Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer said Democrats would prefer to avoid a primary, but he said that may be unavoidable in the 2nd District. He said there could be a four- or five-way primary that goes on to send a winner to Congress with only a small fraction of support.

“There may be an effort to avoid a primary, but if that fails, there could be three, four or five candidates running. Why take a bullet for the party if everyone else is running?” he said.

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