Democrat Angie Paccione nearly knocked off Rep. Marilyn Musgrave last fall before the Republican incumbent narrowly escaped with a 46-43 victory. Musgrave’s overall percentage of the vote was the lowest of any incumbent in the country, a fact which helped convince Paccione to try again in 2008.

But today Paccione announced that she was withdrawing from the race in CO-4 (Ft. Collins, Greeley) in order to focus her time on a new job. As the Rocky Mountain News reports:

Angie Paccione announced this morning she is dropping out of the race to unseat Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave.

The Democratic front-runner, whom Musgrave defeated last year by less than a three-point margin, now leaves an opening for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s former staffer, Betsy Markey, to take center stage in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District race.

Eric Eidsness, a former Reagan appointee who now is a Democrat, is also running for his new party’s nod.

At a press conference in Fort Collins, Paccione said she has taken a job with Pathways to Leadership Inc., “a company that gives businesses a competitive advantage over others by helping them unleash the greatness in their employees, teams, and organization.”

Paccione’s exit from the race is a big boost for Markey, who would have had a difficult time beating the better-funded and more well-known Paccione in a primary. Markey is now almost assured of winning the Democratic nomination (Eidsness, who only recently decided to become a Democrat, has little chance of winning a primary), but whether or not she is a better candidate against Musgrave in a general election is a different question.

Paccione would have benefited from strong name ID after last year’s race, but she also would have been dogged by some of the same problems that Musgrave highlighted (namely, a prior bankruptcy case). Markey is less recognizable than Paccione – and Stan Matsunaka before her – because she has never held an elected office, and she also has to prove that she can raise enough money to compete after an anemic second quarter that saw her raise just $36,000 (strong congressional candidates raise at least three times that amount each quarter).

Ultimately, however, I don’t know that Markey or Paccione could beat Musgrave in 2008. After being a vocal leader on divisive issues such as a gay marriage ban, Musgrave has worked hard this year to soften her image and appear to be more of a moderate congresswoman. In a district that is dominated by Republican voters, a less-controversial Musgrave should have a relatively easy time winning re-election, particularly against a relatively unknown Democratic candidate. Paccione’s exit from the race certainly changes the outcome of a Democratic primary, but I doubt it will change the inevitability of a Musgrave victory in the end.