With the rest of the country drowning in a red bloodbath on Tuesday that turned over the U.S. House to Republicans and drastically cut into the Democratic Senate majority, Colorado was still feeling somewhat blue – if not slightly purple around the gills.
The Tea Party movement practically handed the governor’s race to Democratic Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper by backing GOP primary winner Dan Maes and all but inviting third-party conservative Tom Tancredo to jump into the fray.
And it looks like Tea Party favorite Ken Buck, a Republican district attorney who continually shot himself in the foot down the stretch run, will lose out to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet by the slimmest of margins. The Denver Post was calling the race for Bennet at 8 a.m., with the Democrat leading 778,261 votes to 771,274 for Buck.
Democrats held onto one of three hotly contested congressional races, with Ed Perlmutter nudging aside Ryan Frazier in CD7, but Blue Dog Democrats battling for their political lives in traditionally Republican territory lost out in the national wave of GOP wins. Betsy Markey lost to Cory Garnder in CD4 and John Salazar was taken out by Scott Tipton in CD3.
Still, with the fate of the state House and Senate still up in the air in this critical redistricting year, Democrats had plenty to celebrate Tuesday night. Hickenlooper told the crowd of still enthusiastic supporters he would set aside the rancor of the last 12 months and continue the positive tone he established with a campaign in which he didn’t run a single negative ad.
“I am honored and humbled by the decision Colorado voters have made, and I accept the challenge that you have entrusted me to lead the state of Colorado,” he said. “But as we’ve said right along, this is not the end but the beginning, and it starts with bringing people together.”
Hickenlooper added getting the economy back on track doesn’t mean sacrificing Colorado’s job-generating environment.
“We can make a Colorado that is pro-business but still maintains the highest standards for health and preserving water and resources,” he said. “Colorado is the greatest state in this nation, in this world, to live and work in.
“The global recession didn’t start here, but we intend to make sure that we end it here. But it’s going to take all of us – Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated, Constitution Party, from Eastern Plains, Western Slope, Four Corners, wherever they’re from, whatever they do.”
Outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter acknowledged it was a tough time to run as a Democrat.
“If you’re watching what’s happening around the country, there are some hard things for Democrats to watch,” Ritter said. “We are in the midst of a recession; we have been for a long time prior to President Obama taking office, by the way. It’s been a difficult two years and there’s some voter frustration and angry feelings as well.”
Ritter praised outgoing Democratic treasurer Cary Kennedy and Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, ousted by Republicans Walker Stapleton and Scott Gessler respectively.
And Ritter also said the Democratic Party remains the all-encompassing party of the people.
“So much of it has to be that we have to be about people and we have to be about people no matter where they live, their zip code, their ethnicity, or their station in life, whether they’re poor or middle class or wealthy,” Ritter said. “We have to care about people no matter their sexual orientation.”
One of Buck’s campaign gaffs included saying on Meet the Press that homosexuality is a choice – one that he compared to alcoholism. Buck also didn’t back down from “buyer’s remorse” comments he made when refusing to prosecute an old rape case in which the suspect confessed.
Colorado’s senior Sen. Mark Udall, who did not have to run for re-election in this brutal climate for Democrats, said, “Enough with the sound bites and the slogans; enough with the $40 million that has been dumped into our state [by outside groups on both sides] in the Senate race.” He told the crowd it was time to move on, listen to the voters and kick the green economy into high gear.
“We have to acknowledge Gov. Ritter,” Udall said. “I have no doubt that historians will give him many, many kudos for initiating green campaigns. [But] let me just share with you what the voters are saying tonight. They’re saying that they want us to focus on jobs and the economy, and they’re saying they want us to work together.”
Colorado’s senior congresswoman, Democrat Diana DeGette — who easily rolled to victory in CD1 — said the state cares deeply about certain values and will not compromise them even in the face of a conservative tidal wave.
“Never give up and never give in about the values we care about,” DeGette said. “The voters will see what we are doing for them; 2012 will bring the resurgence of Democrats.”
Kirsten Cangilla contributed reporting.