Colorado governor’s race a close one until the end
DENVER — A Colorado governor’s race that few originally expected to be close was too close to call Tuesday night.
Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez traded leads hours after the polls closed. Beauprez 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.
Colorado voters hadn’t booted an incumbent governor since 1962. But Beauprez sought to do so and become the first Republican to win the state’s top office since 2002.
“If you’d asked me six months ago if this would be this close, I would’ve laughed in your face,” said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University.
Many political observers wrote off Beauprez after his disastrous 2006 gubernatorial bid in which he lost by 17 points. But that year, Beauprez faced a Democratic wave with an unpopular Republican president in his sixth year.
This year, Hickenlooper found himself in the same unfavorable political circumstances.
Hickenlooper led recovery efforts during some of the state’s worst natural disasters, with historic wildfires and flooding in 2013 alone. He also has overseen an improving state economy that now has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, compared with 9.1 percent when he took office.
But that wasn’t enough to gain him separation from his opponent. In fact, he was responsible for making the race close with some controversial decisions, mainly his indefinite stay of Nathan Dunlap’s execution. Dunlap was convicted of killing four people in 1993 at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
Hickenlooper signed a package of gun-control bills in 2013, then appeared flustered this year during a talk with sheriffs who opposed it. He told them he would have reassessed his support for the legislation had he known the furor it would cause.
“I think it’s been a battle of unforced errors,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst in Colorado. “Hickenlooper, Lord knows, made his share of those errors, and the combination of that is what made Beauprez a more viable candidate than some suspected.”
While a stronger candidate than he was eight years ago, Beauprez, like Hickenlooper, 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. Beauprez has maintained he won’t interfere with women’s reproductive rights, even though he opposes abortion. Democrats still pounced on his debate comments.
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.
“I do think that this ad and this (public safety) message that Beauprez is going with is his own unforced error at the end,” Sondermann said.
Larry DiPasquale, 60, said he is a Republican but voted for Hickenlooper because he steered the state through a season of catastrophic wildfires and floods.
DiPasquale, who lives in Arapahoe County, said Hickenlooper also helped foster the state’s robust economy.
“He’s always done what’s best for Colorado,” DiPasquale said. “The governor has helped small businesses and put Colorado out there as a state where people want to visit and live.”
It was the first time Colorado sent ballots by mail to every registered elector, which forced the campaigns to make their closing arguments a few weeks in advance.
At the same time, with the advent of Election Day registration here, both parties scrambled to get every possible vote until polls close.
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 had support from voters who said the country was on the wrong track and voters with a negative view of the Obama administration.
The survey of 1,058 Colorado voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research by 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.