Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who previously served as Colorado’s attorney general and U.S. senator, sidestepped inquiries Wednesday about whether he might throw his hat in the ring as a Democratic candidate for governor.

Gov. Bill Ritter, who was once considered a rising Democratic star, has stumbled on various issues since taking office and alienated several business groups, including the energy industry. On Wednesday he announced that he would not seek a second term.

In a prearranged conference call with reporters to discuss an overhaul of the Bureau of Land Management (see related story), Salazar was asked whether he might consider a run for Colorado’s top job. He never said he would consider running for governor nor did he say he wouldn’t consider it.

“With respect to that subject, Bill Ritter has been a devoted servant of the public at great sacrifice to self and family,” Salazar said following the first question. “I have enjoyed our work together during my time as attorney general, United States senator and secretary of the Interior. I wish him and his family all the best and thank him for his service.”

Prodded again, Salazar was asked who his “preferred candidate” would be in the Colorado governor’s race this year. But Salazar again did not take the bait. He said at the midday conference that Ritter had not yet made a formal announcement; the governor’s decision was made at about the same time as the conference call.

“There are other conversations under way in Colorado,” said Salazar. “I have no comment on it.”

Ritter apparently told party officials that the governor’s job was taking a toll on his family, and instead of running for office, he wanted to concentrate on being a successful father and husband. Ritter and his wife Jeannie have four children: three are grown or in college and live nearby while one child is still at home.

A Democratic source close to Salazar told the Denver Post that the Interior secretary was “under tremendous pressure” from state party leaders to “fill the void” that would be left by Ritter.

“Despite Salazar’s key role in energy and climate change issues, the [Obama] administration may be inclined to support a gubernatorial bid,” the source said. “The western strategy used successfully by Democrats in the 2008 campaign looks very much in danger, and Colorado is key to that effort for Democrats and the White House in the future.”

U.S. Rep. John Salazar (D-CO), who is Ken Salazar’s brother, told the Pueblo Chieftain Wednesday that he wanted his brother to run for governor.

“I think my brother would be the best candidate,” John Salazar told the Chieftain during a tour of Xcel Energy’s Comanche Power Plant. “Ken knows the state, and he knows all the issues. Of course, he’s only been Interior secretary for a year and I don’t want to be putting words in his mouth.”

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