Now that Sen. Ken Salazar has decided against running for governor in 2006, former Denver DA Bill Ritter can mark one big name off the list of potential primary challengers.

The big names left on that list are State Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, though there may be another Democrat or two still considering a run. Between Fitz-Gerald and Hickenlooper, Fitz-Gerald would seem to be the more likely to run at this point, but Hickenlooper is widely considered to be the stronger candidate and should expect to hear more calls for him to take the leap now that Salazar has backed off.

Susan Barnes-Gelt made a public plea for Hickenlooper to run in The Denver Post, and while Hick has continually said that he has “no plans to run for governor,” he has left enough room that Democrats continue to push him forward.

Between now and November, Hickenlooper will travel the state in support of Referendums C and D. Make an effort to meet him. I think you’ll agree that he will bring a new brand of leadership to Colorado, leadership characterized by optimism, bipartisanship and a keen awareness of the strengths of shared values.

Hickenlooper’s contagious enthusiasm and ability to bring people together in common cause are exactly what Coloradans deserve in their next governor.

It’s a fat pitch. Mr. Mayor, take a cut.

If Hick really isn’t going to run, at some point he’ll have to come out and say, “I will not run for governor in 2006.” But until he does, the recruitment will only increase.