Bennet declares victory as Buck concedes hard-fought Senate race

Republican Ken Buck this afternoon conceded the U.S. Senate race to incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet, who at noon delivered his victory speech to dozens of members of the press and a couple hundred fans, staff and supporters on the west steps of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Leading by more than 15,000 votes as of mid-afternoon, it appeared that as more ballots were counted, Bennet’s lead continued to grow.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet embraces his wife, Susan Daggett, today during a victory celebration. They are surrounded by their children. U.S Senator Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette are to the right. Gov. Bill Ritter is to the left. Photo by Scot Kersgaard.

“You know, Gov. Ritter 22 months ago made a very surprising choice to try to fill the shoes of our great Secretary of the Interior [and former senator] Ken Salazar. Lets face it, most people thought he had lost his mind. So I want to thank Gov. Ritter for believing in me then, and thank you, Colorado, for believing in me now.” Bennet told the crowd in declaring victory today.

“I am humbled by your support and I’m inspired by it, and I will not let you down. I’m not going back to Washington to play politics. I’m going there to fight for jobs, for the clean energy economy, for education for every child, to fight so that every American has access to quality health care that they can afford.

“On too many issues, the orthodoxies of both political parties are obsolete. In this new age, every organization has to re-examine its approach to remain relevant.

“The Senate is no exception. It must also change; it just doesn’t know it yet. I’m going back there to deliver that message.”

While most of his speech was the sort of upbeat message voters would expect, he also got in a few zingers worthy of his primary opponent Andrew Romanoff.

For example: “A great country doesn’t ship billions of dollars overseas every week to feed a deadly addiction to foreign oil.”

Bennet didn’t talk much about the campaign, though, or the policy differences between his camp and Buck’s.

Later this afternoon, speaking on a conference call with reporters, Mike Melanson said it looked like Buck lost the lead he held until just a few weeks ago when the Bennet campaign was able to capitalize on Buck’s apparent mishandling of a 2005 rape case and on other “sexist” remarks made by Buck down the stretch.

Melanson was governor-elect John Hickenlooper’s campaign manager and also managed Sen. Mark Udall’s successful 2008 campaign for the Senate.

Melanson noted that Bennet had a 14-point advantage over Buck with female voters. He also said Democrats such as Bennet, Hickenlooper, and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter were able to win because they were centrist, moderate, pro-business candidates, each up against candidates who ran on strict, hard-right platforms. He said Colorado voters do not want to elect extremists and that it was smart of Bennet and other Democrats to point out how extreme the positions of their opponents were.

Buck called Bennet this afternoon to congratulate him, and his campaign issued this statement:

Ken Buck said he called Senator Michael Bennet this afternoon to congratulate him on winning the U. S. Senate race.

Buck said that while the final margin in the race is very small, Colorado voters have spoken and he wishes Senator Bennet well.

Buck said, “my Senate campaign has been the experience of a lifetime. I will be forever grateful to the thousands of Coloradans who helped make this grassroots journey possible.”

Surrounded by a who’s who of Colorado Democratic politics — Wellington Webb, Bill Ritter, Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter, John Hickenlooper — Bennet stood with his wife and children, often hugging or embracing them. At one point, a daughter read part of his speech, wherein he promised that tomorrow they could begin looking for a puppy.

“This morning the prognosticators and the pundits are dissecting this election, dividing our country into red and blue, winners and losers. They will go state by state arguing who deserves the blame. When they get to Colorado, let me tell you they are not going to know what happened. They are going to scratch their heads and wonder what the heck is going on out here. They will ask what message this sends to the rest of the country,” Bennet said.

“This election and our campaign were never about sending some sort of political message. This election was about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work to rebuild our state and our country. This election was about the mothers and fathers struggling to make ends meet in this savage economy, trying to figure out how they are going to do more with less.

“Ken Buck fought hard in this campaign. I congratulate him and I honor his commitment to public service. Because our differences were stark and the race was very close some will read into this outcome that Coloradans are divided. I can tell you that would be a mistake. What I have heard over and over is that the aspiration we all have for our families and our communities are so much more shared and not about the false choices that politicians and TV talking heads try to divide us with. People don’t want to eliminate the government and they don’t want big government. They want an efficient and effective government that works hard for them and gets out of the way. They want fewer needless regulations holding back our businesses . They want to make sure that our rules are fair and protect the environment. They want to know that everyone who plays by those rules has a chance to succeed.

“A great country doesn’t let special interests tie it down. It supports innovators, it doesn’t ignore its most vulnerable citizens. Instead, it gives them the tools and the chance to become leaders. A great country doesn’t burden its children with colossal debt. A great country faces up to its hard choices so that its children are free to pursue their own dreams.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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