DENVER (AP) – Rep. Mike Coffman on Monday announced he was not going to run for the U.S. Senate next year, depriving Republicans of what many had viewed as their top candidate to try to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Coffman said he will instead run for re-election in his congressional district in Denver’s southeastern suburbs, which is evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. That has made him a target of Democrats in the past two elections, but his continued victories – including a commanding 9-point re-election last year – led national Republicans to lean on him heavily to challenge Bennet.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had breakfast with Coffman late last month to discuss a possible run.

Coffman, a Marine Corps veteran, said in a statement that he wanted to focus on the continuing woes of a Veterans Administration hospital project in his district.

“I have decided to seek re-election in the House so that I may continue my mission to clean up the VA, where my position as chairman of the House Veterans Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee has allowed me to shine a light on the culture of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption,” he said.

Republicans will now focus on other possible challengers. Speculation has centered on State Sen. Ellen Roberts, State Sen. President Bill Cadman, District Attorney George Brauchler – currently prosecuting the Colorado theater shooting trial – and Coffman’s wife, Cynthia, who is Colorado’s attorney general.

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