Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wins second term
DENVER — Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has won a second term in office, narrowly defeating Republican challenger Bob Beauprez in a campaign that had the incumbent on the ropes for his positions on the death penalty and gun-control legislation.
The contest was Hickenlooper’s toughest of his career, and although he stumbled at times, his victory showed that he continues to be a political force in this state. His victory came in a big year for Republicans here and nationwide.
The race was much closer than anyone expected, and it was too close to call until Wednesday morning.
“The voters in Colorado have spoken,” Hickenlooper said. “What I want to express first and foremost is gratitude. We’re incredibly grateful that we have won a second term as Colorado governor.”
Hickenlooper survived more than a year of attacks over his decision to indefinitely halt the execution of convicted mass murderer Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a suburban Denver Chuck E. Cheese. Hickenlooper also weathered intense disapproval from Republicans over his party’s wide-ranging 2013 legislative session that saw new gun control laws in response to mass shootings, civil unions for gay couples, and tuition benefits and driving privileges for people in the country illegally.
Beauprez, a former congressman, sought to become the first Republican to win the governor’s office since 2002. But Hickenlooper had history on his side: The last time Colorado voters booted an incumbent governor from office was in 1962.
Beauprez had hoped to cap a Republican resurgence that saw Rep. Cory Gardner defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Mike Coffman hold onto his suburban Denver congressional seat.
Many political observers wrote off Beauprez after a 2006 gubernatorial bid in which he lost by 17 points. That year, Beauprez faced a Democratic wave with an unpopular Republican president in his sixth year. Hickenlooper found himself in the same unfavorable political circumstances this year.
Hickenlooper campaigned on his leadership during some of the state’s worst natural disasters, with historic wildfires and flooding in 2013. He also oversaw an improving state economy that now has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, compared with 9.1 percent when he took office.
While a stronger candidate than he was eight years ago, Beauprez, like Hickenlooper, also stumbled.
During a debate, Beauprez said intrauterine devices, or IUDs, cause abortions. The devices are a common form of birth control used to prevent pregnancy. Then a television ad Beauprez released criticizing Hickenlooper on public safety referred to the death of Colorado Corrections Director Tom Clements, who was killed by a former inmate. The ad prompted Clements’ widow to ask Beauprez to stop politicizing the tragedy.
The election put Hickenlooper in a position he’d never been in before, having easily won the Denver mayoral office twice and cruising into the governor’s office four years ago.
That’s when a divided Republican Party nominated Dan Maes, a tea-party candidate who got 11 percent of the vote, and former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo ran on a third-party ticket.
But he never gained separation from Beauprez. In fact, he made the race close with some controversial decisions, mainly his indefinite stay of Dunlap’s execution.
Hickenlooper also appeared flustered this year during a talk with sheriffs who opposed the 2013 gun control legislation. He told them he would have reassessed his support for the legislation had he known the furor it would cause.
It was the first time Colorado sent ballots by mail to every registered elector and allowed Election Day registration.
Hickenlooper had support from women, independent voters, and both voters who earned less than $50,000 and those who made $100,000 or more, according to preliminary results of exit polling.
Beauprez received backing from voters who said the country was on the wrong track and those with a negative view of the Obama administration.
The survey of 1,058 Colorado voters was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research via landlines and cellular phones between Oct. 24 and Nov. 2. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin and Sadie Gurman contributed to this report.