Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is not running for governor. Just yesterday we talked about how Hick would not stop hearing the calls for him to run until he came out and said, “I’m not running.” Well, he came out and said, “I’m not running” to the Rocky Mountain News.

Memo from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to former District Attorney Bill Ritter:

“I am not, repeat not, running for governor.”

Hickenlooper said Thursday that on a number of occasions — including as early as April and as late as this month — he has let Ritter know he has no gubernatorial ambitions.

Ritter as of now is the lone Democratic candidate for governor in 2006.

The speculation now centers on who, if anyone, will enter the race on the Democratic side, with State Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald and Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff leading the list of candidates. But before we get back into that discussion, it’s important to step back and take a look at Hickenlooper’s decision.

By most accounts Hickenlooper has been considered the top gubernatorial candidate among Democrats since talk turned to the 2006 election last December. His approval ratings in Denver are in the low 90s, which is literally unheard of, and among voters along the Front Range (which makes up the majority of the Colorado electorate), Hick’s name ID is as high as 68 percent. If he were to enter the race for governor, most observers would have immidiately named him the favorite to win the whole enchilada next November.

And that’s why when Hickenlooper tells the News “the bottom line is I love being mayor,” you have to take him at his word. Politics is as much about timing as it is anything else, and Hick will probably never be in a better position to win a statewide race than he is right now. Sure, he could get more popular, but the better odds are that he can only go down from here. Hickenlooper would have been the odds-on favorite for an open seat…and that’s not going to happen again.

There are three top political jobs in Colorado: the two U.S. Senate seats and the governor seat. Ritter may not have backed out of this race for Hickenlooper to run, but he would have had to seriously consider it. That’s not going to be the case with the U.S. Senate race in 2008, which Democrat Mark Udall has already staked his claim to. Hickenlooper can’t run for U.S. Senate in 2010 because the incumbent, Ken Salazar, is a Democrat. Maybe Hick could consider running for governor in 2010 if a Republican wins next year, but then he’d be facing an incumbent Republican and surely wouldn’t be as popular as he is now.

In the end, what made Hickenlooper such a popular mayor — bucking the trend and projecting a regular guy image — could be the same thing that kept him out of this race. It’s not often that a politician at the height of his popularity turns down the best political opportunity he’s likely to ever see, but that’s just what John Hickenlooper has done.