Election: Colorado governor’s race close until the end
DENVER — A Colorado governor’s race that few expected to be close enters its final day with neither party able to say with confidence that they’ve gained a clear lead.
For Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper, Tuesday’s election is the toughest test of his political career. GOP challenger Bob Beauprez is hoping to be 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.
Beauprez beat three Republican candidates in a June primary to challenge Hickenlooper.
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. Now, Hickenlooper finds 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 hasn’t been 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, has 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.”
This is the first time Colorado is sending ballots by mail to every registered elector, which forced the campaigns to make their closing arguments 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.
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