The 2010 U.S. Senate race got under way even before the last hours of 2008 ticked off the clock.
On New Year's Eve, preparations were being made to announce Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet as a replacement for Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar.
And by the next morning, a team was quietly being assembled for Bennet's first-ever election campaign in two years.
"I had just unpacked my bags in D.C. and got a call asking if I could jump on a plane and come back to Colorado to help out," said Matt Chandler, the onetime spokesman for President-elect Barack Obama's Colorado campaign.
By Saturday, Chandler had issued the first news release on behalf of the Bennet for Colorado campaign, which unveiled a bare-bones Web site, a 23-page media kit and a way for people to sign up for campaign updates.
Veteran political consultant Craig Hughes, director of research for RBI Strategy & Research, is in charge of assembling Bennet's campaign team, Chandler said Sunday.
Hughes, who cut his teeth in President Bill Clinton's campaigns, served as Obama's senior campaign adviser in Colorado.
Bennet's campaign is expected to file an official Statement of Organization with the Federal Election Commission in the next few days. Although Chandler repeatedly stressed "there's only one senator at a time" - and until later this month, his name is Salazar - he said, "We'll have a campaign structure that's up and running very soon."
There's no secret why.
Republicans are chomping at the bit to take on Bennet, who is untested as a campaigner and fundraiser, and isn't as well-known as the man the GOP had been expecting to face, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Many political analysts and both Democratic and Republican insiders have said they were surprised, even perplexed, that Democrats would take a chance on holding the seat in 2010 with a political rookie, however talented, intelligent or likable.
Pollster Floyd Ciruli called the pick "improbable" and "risky." And some Democrats openly fretted that the seat was at risk. Bennet's selection "could be a coup for Republicans in 2010," said Gil Cisneros, president and CEO of the Chamber of the Americas, who supported former state Sen. Polly Baca for the appointment.
That could explain why Bennet and his backers used reassuring - and sometimes defiant - terms at a Saturday news conference to address skeptics. Bennet said he plans to run in 2010 and "absolutely" intends to win.
In a favorable election year for Democrats, Mark Udall had to raise $12.6 million to beat Republican Bob Schaffer last year. It could be more in 2010. It also will be the first mid-term election after a party switch in the White House - something that historically means tough challenges for the new president's party.
That means Bennet's first election is hardly a cakewalk.
"He is going to win," Chandler said. "I think the country is facing some tough times, but he's an incredibly hard worker. He's going to earn that victory."
At a news conference in Denver on Sunday, Salazar said that "without a doubt" he would work for Bennet's election, including urging Obama to come to Colorado to campaign.
"I know that the president-elect holds Michael Bennet in high esteem," said Salazar, who will introduce Bennet to his future Senate colleagues this week.
Bennet is scheduled to address the Senate's Democratic conference in Washington on Wednesday.
"He has a lot of work ahead of him in the next 20 months," Salazar said. "He knows that."