I’ll bet that headline got your attention.

That wasn’t just a ruse to get you to read this post, however. While I have no reliable source to say this for certainty, in the absence of any real news I’m going to make a prediction: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper will run for governor, and he will announce the decision next week.

If you don’t follow politics, it may seem curious to you why this subject keeps coming up both in this space and in the Colorado and Denver media, as it did again today in The Denver Post. The reason is that no single politician is more important to the 2006 election than Hickenlooper. That’s a bold statement, to be sure, but if Hickenlooper runs for governor the general consensus is that he would be the prohibitive favorite to win the job because of his overwhelming popularity along the Front Range. A poll conducted last spring showed that Hick has a 68 percent favorable rating among people along the Front Range, and while he certainly wouldn’t get 68 percent of the vote from Front Range voters, he would be in a position to get a good percentage of them. Any candidate who can get 55 percent of the votes along the Front Range will win a statewide election, regardless of what happens in the rest of the state.

That’s just one of many reasons why Hick would be the odds-on favorite to win, but a Hickenlooper candidacy in itself does many things to influence the 2006 elections. There is a trickle-down effect in politics whereby a strong candidate at the top of the ticket (in other words, the candidates in the biggest race of that election year, be it for President, Governor or U.S. Senate) will bring up the votes for every candidate of that party down the line. The idea is that people who might otherwise be disinterested may turn out to vote for Hickenlooper because of his popularity, and while they are there they will likely vote for other Democrats; but without a strong top candidate, those voters might just not bother showing up at the polls.

A Hickenlooper candidacy will also bring out strong Democratic candidates for other statewide offices, such as attorney general and secretary of state, who know that they can ride the coattails of the popular Denver Mayor.

But for all of this to happen, Hickenlooper needs to run. Why do I think he will run? Call it a hunch, based on the fact that he has gone out of his way lately to say that he has “never said never” in 2006. I also think it is too big of a lure for him not to run; there will never be a better time for him to run for higher office, because he can’t possibly be more popular in two or four years than he is today. There is also the very real possibility of what comes next, because if Hickenlooper can sweep in and win the governor’s seat, he becomes a legitimate Presidential candidate in 2012 if a Republican wins in 2008.

Anyway, that’s my guess, and I’m sticking to it.