Sen. Campbell will not run again
U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell rocked the state’s political scene Wednesday, announcing he would not seek a third term this fall.
Campbell had been treated for prostate cancer last year, and had been hospitalized twice in the past two weeks for health problems. He is also facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation over the actions of a staffer.
In a statement released Wednesday, Campbell wrote, “After a great deal of soul-searching and reflection, I have decided not to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate. I am honored to have represented the people of Colorado for the past 22 years and I know that there is no greater job than to serve my fellow citizens in the U.S. Senate, but I felt the time has come to pass that duty on to another and return to my ranch with the family that I love.”
Campbell’s announcement came just weeks after a tour of the state in which he essentially kicked off his fall campaign. Meanwhile, state Democratic party officials continued to raise questions whether he would, in fact, seek a third term. During a recent interview in Eagle, Campbell said flatly, “I’m running. I don’t know how much more clear I can be.”
Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone said he is disappointed, but not particularly surprised by Campbell’s decision. Stone and fellow Commissioner Michael Gallagher were in Washington, D.C., last week, the day after Campbell had spent a night in the hospital with chest pains that turned out to be indigestion.
“We saw him talking to people in his office,” Stone said. “They were all concerned about his hospitalization.”
Stone, who has known the Campbells for about 25 years, said he’s known for a couple of years that Campbell was uncertain about seeking a third term.
“He’s told me he felt like he’s spent enough time at this,” said Stone. However, “He’s devoted a major portion of his productive life to public service, so this is a disappointment, but it’s understandable.”
“I know his wife, Linda, was very interested in him coming home,” Stone added. “But Ben felt the calling, and he’d been asked by President Bush to continue. But I think his health finally became an issue.”
Asked who he’d like to see replace Campbell in the Senate, Stone didn’t hesitate before he said, “The obvious candidate is Scott McInnis. I don’t think there’s anyone else from western Colorado with the federal government experience necessary.” Stone said he hopes Colorado continues its tradition of having one Western Slope senator in Washington. “I think that’s very important,” said Stone.
McInnis, who represents most of the Western Slope in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, released a statement Wednesday praising Campbell’s service to the state. In that statement, McInnis wrote, “Just take a look at some of (Campbell’s) accomplishments over the past years, like his work to create the Great Sand Dunes and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks; his efforts to improve higher education and address children’s diabetes; his promotion of accountability in the U.S. Olympic Committee, or his work to aid Native Americans and to ensure that the federal government lives up its promises.”
“With McInnis and Campbell both leaving, it will be a huge loss for the county,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.
Among the dozens of county projects Campbell was involved with were the High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the airport, the ECO bus system, he pushed through several land exchange programs, helped the county with Forest Service issues, and was involved in helping find solutions to the road sand inundation of Black Gore Creek.
“You can see the results of Campbell’s work all around the county.” said Ingstad.
Campbell helped push much of the federal funding for the Eagle County Regional Airport through the Senate, including $2 million for instrument landing system and the radar system.
Tough act to follow
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” said Sen. Jack Taylor, a Steamboat Springs Republican who represents Eagle County. Taylor added that the scene at the State Capitol Wednesday was “pretty wild.”
Taylor said McInnis and Gov. Bill Owens could possibly seek Campbell’s seat. “I’d imagine other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation will look at it, too,” said Taylor.
Taylor added that, depending on who comes forward, there could be a significant domino effect through the ranks of the state’s elected officials.
McInnis spokesman Blair Jones said McInnis – who has announced he will not seek another term in his current post – hasn’t yet decided whether or not to
See Campbell, page A10
run for Campbell’s seat. “The congressman wants to see how things play out right now,” said Jones.
McInnis, though, has a sizable campaign war chest should he decide to seek the seat. According to the most recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, McInnis has more than $1.3 million in campaign funds.
The decision gave Democrats another open seat to target in November and threw the Senate race wide open. The names of Republican Gov. Bill Owens and former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart are already being bandied about. Hart earlier declined to campaign against Campbell for the seat.
Chris Gates, the state Democratic Party chairman, called it a “beautiful day,” but had no immediate comment on whether the party planned to again try to lure a high-profile candidate like Udall or Hart. An official at Hart’s law office in Denver said he had no comment.
Owens, considered a rising star in the Republican Party, simply issued a statement thanking Campbell for his years of service.
State GOP chairman Ted Halaby declined to speculate about a Republican candidate.
Republicans hold a U.S. Senate majority of 51-48 with one Democrat-leaning independent. The GOP hopes to pad its majority by winning some or all of a string of Southern seats where Democrats are retiring.
Campbell is the third Republican senator to announce retirement plans this year, along with five Democrats.
Campbell was first elected to the Senate in 1992 as a Democrat, then switched parties three years later. A Northern Cheyenne tribal chief, he cuts a distinctive figure in the Capitol, sporting a ponytail and ornate jewelry and riding a Harley-Davidson to work.
He has been an advocate for a number of Indian issues, including winning federal recognition of the Sand Creek Indian massacre site in southeastern Colorado. He has been a champion for reviving the long-stalled Animas-La Plata water project in southwestern Colorado.
Campbell, a former Olympian in judo, also led the charge for reform of the U.S. Olympic Committee after allegations of financial mismanagement and infighting.
Campbell’s office was rocked last month when it was alleged that a longtime aide, Ginnie Kontnik, had been taking kickbacks. The senator said he knew nothing about any wrongdoing and reported the matter to the Senate ethics committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.