By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– The election of Colorado’s next governor still a year and a half away, but already four Democrats and three Republicans have announced their candidacy while a powerhouse in Colorado politics now says he’s not running.

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In an Op-Ed in the Denver Post, former Secretary of Interior and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar says,”My family’s well-being must come first.”

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Democratic analyst Penfield Tate says Salazar’s announcement could reshape the race, “If you’re a candidate who’s probably not as well known and not as well traveled you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief.”

Former State Senator Mike Johnston is the most prominent democrat in the race so far.

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But Tate says with Salazar out, Rep. Ed Perlmutter will likely jump in, “This has got to factor heavily into his decision-making process now.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter celebrates on Election Night 2012. (credit: CBS)

But, Republican analyst Dick Wadhams says Perlmutter isn’t a shoe in, “Spending more than a decade in Congress, is that what people are looking for in the next governor? I’m not sure. It doesn’t mean that previous public service is discounted, but (voters) don’t automatically reward the guy who’s served the longest in public office.”

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It’s not just what voters are looking for in their candidates, but which voters turn out that will play into who makes the ballot. For the first time in Colorado, unaffiliated voters will get primary ballots in the mail.

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“I suspect we may see candidates who are not so closely aligned with either the Democratic or Republican party start to float some trial balloons,” says Tate.

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews Democratic analyst Penfield Tate (credit: CBS)

Wadhams agrees, “I think this nomination is totally up for grabs.”

It’s the first governor’s race in 20 years, Wadhams says, where there will be competitive primaries on both sides.

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews CBS4 Republican Political Analyst Dick Wadhams (credit: CBS)

The 2018 is also significant because the party in power will lead the redrawing of Congressional districts – which remain in place for 10 years – and will also appoint a new state supreme court justice.

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While the national parties aren’t expected to play a big role in the election since there are no federal races here next year, independent expenditure groups are expected to flood the state with money.

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“Colorado is still a big prize nationally,” says Wadhams, “so the governor’s race matters to both parties nationally.”

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Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.