Yesterday The Denver Post published the first public poll results on the candidates for governor in 2006, and in something of a surprise Democrat Bill Ritter leads over both potential Republican opponents, Marc Holtzman and Bob Beauprez.

The questions on the governor’s race were included on a poll about Referenda C&D. Here’s the results under the question “If the 2006 election for governor were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were…”

42% Bill Ritter
36% Bob Beauprez
22% Undecided

41% Bill Ritter
30% Marc Holtzman
29% Undecided

This is somewhat of a surprise that Ritter would lead Beauprez, given that Beauprez as a sitting congressman is the only candidate currently holding elected office. The numbers actually make a little more sense, however, when compared to a Rocky Mountain News poll that has Beauprez with 80% name ID compared to 67% for Ritter and 44% for Holtzman. That might seem counterintuitive that the candidate with the best name ID would not be the early favorite in this race, but while Beauprez is the most well-known of the three, that can also mean that he is the most disliked. Holtzman is the least known of the three, and most voters probably don’t have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.

It’s generally better to have strong name ID than to not be recognized, but in some cases the name ID can come with an asterisk. Osama Bin Laden would be the extreme example here; he probably has great name ID among Americans, but that’s for the wrong reasons.

Early polls generally don’t mean much, but my read on these results is this: Ritter is in good shape and clearly benefits from having served 10+ years as the Denver district attorney. The Denver DA, along with the Denver mayor, have the unique advantage of being in the news more than just about every other Colorado politician, and Ritter’s name is resonating. Holtzman and Beauprez may also be hurting from their public feuding in the last six weeks, even if Holtzman needed it to get his name ID up, and some voters might be choosing Ritter as the the lesser of two evils.

What is most obvious to me, however, is that Beauprez has some serious negative responses that are going to hurt him at the polls if he doesn’t correct them. When most voters know who you are and are not going to vote for you, you’ve got issues to address.