Hickenlooper Wins Gov, GOP Takes State Offices

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For all its twists and turns, shocks and suspense, the governor’s race ended on an remarkably ordinary note when Denver mayor John Hickenlooper took the stage surrounded by family and supporters, to make his victory speech.

HICKENLOOPER: I am honored and humbled by the decision Colorado voters have made, and I accept the challenge that you have entrusted me to lead our state of Colorado.

Like many a winning executive officer before hime, Hickenlooper told the crowd the time for partisanship is over. He appealed to citizens optimism, in the face of a tough economy.

HICKENLOOPER: We can make Colorado a place that is pro-business but still maintain the highest standards to protect the health of our citizens and preserve our land and water, and the quality of life that makes Colorado special. We can tackle the challenge of keeping our schools funded, including higher education, because the path success is through a classroom door.

Jamal Tuva of Morrison came out for the Democrat’s election night celebration. He found Hickenlooper’s win a bright spot in a night marked primarily by Democratic losses.

TUVA: I’m celebrating the victories we’ve gotten. John Hickenlooper, we walked in just as he was going to give his acceptance speech. It was great, it was great to be here for those occasions.

While Democrats were happy to claim Hickenlooper’s victory in the win category, he also benefited greatly from a fractured opposition.

Just a quick reminder, in case any of the details have slipped your mind -- until the middle of this summer, it looked like Hickenlooper would face former Congressman Scott McInnis as his Republican challenger. Then came the plagiarism scandal that tanked McInnis’ campaign and Dan Maes started to climb in the polls. Before the two could face off in the primary, Tom Tancredo announced his plan to jump in as a minor party candidate, whoever won. Maes took the primary. Tancredo took the plunge. Over the following weeks Maes’ suffered mounting missteps and Republican support melted away.

Last night Maes didn’t even bother to party with his Party. Instead, his supporters packed into a Colorado Springs brew pub to watch returns. By the unofficial tally it looks like he pulled in a little more than 10% of the vote. But Maes says he has few regrets about the run.

MAES: I’m proud that we stayed through to the end, that we didn’t buy into backroom deals, we didn’t fall to the pressure and we set an example to our kids and our families and people out there that you don’t quit once you’ve started.

Maes maintains he could have won, if only Tancredo’s third party bid hadn’t drained so much of his support. And he says he hopes his campaign sends a message to the Republican establishment.

MAES: I hope the party learns that it’s got to start listening to the people, the grassroots people, take them very seriously. And by 2012, find candidates that probably best represent everybody, which is very hard to do.

Last night’s results suggest that many so-called grassroots conservative voters did find a candidate in Tom Tancredo.

Tancredo's poll numbers climbed steadily since he began his run in August. But in the end they didn't climb high enough. Unofficial returns show him with 37% of the vote. Republican Steven Adams took his candidate’s defeat hard.

ADAMS: I’m devastated. This is supposed to be the take-it-back, and it didn’t happen in Colorado. I’m very disappointed.

But in his concession speech, Tancredo cautioned supporters not to be disheartened and instead stay active in conservative causes.

TANCREDO: We have to now think about what we can do, all of us can do, for this state and for the nation. The loss of a race does not mean the loss of a cause.

While Republicans won’t have one of their party, or a sympathetic surrogate, in the governor’s chair, it looks like they’ll come out of this election holding most statewide offices. Attorney General John Suthers easily held his seat against Democratic challenger Stan Garnett ... political newcomer Walker Stapleton edged out Democrat Cary Kennedy for the Treasurer’s office... and in the Secretary of State’s race, incumbent Democrat Bernie Buescher lost to Republican Scott Gessler. Gessler took the stage celebrating the night’s Republican tide.

GESSLER: I think we’ve won the battle of ideas. We won this round. If you look across the country voters are rejecting big and they’re rejecting intrusive government.

But if you look at Colorado’s state House and Senate races it’s hard to draw such clear conclusions. At this point it looks like fewer than a thousand votes separate the winner and loser in around a dozen races, leaving both parties squabbling over who exactly has won what. Unofficial returns suggest Republicans may end up winning control of the House, and have a shot at a one-vote majority in the Senate.

With so many races so close, both parties were quick to declare a victory -- Republicans for adding seats, Democrats for not losing more of them. Representative Frank McNulty spearheaded the Republican House election effort. He says if his party does regain control, voters will expect them to work with Democrats.

MCNULTY: If we are fortunate enough to pick up a majority in the state House of representatives tonight, that is exactly what we’ll do. We certainly look forward to the opportunity, we’re ready for the opportunity, and we look forward to creating a jobs agenda with governor-elect Hickenlooper.

McNulty’s counterpart on the Democratic side, Representative Andy Kerr, echoed that idea. Pointing to the narrowly divided legislative results, Kerr says there’s no such thing as a mandate in Colorado.

KERR: "As soon as anyone starts thinking that they have a mandate, regardless of what the numbers are or anything, that’s when they start doing things that they shouldn’t."

What Colorado’s lawmakers, and the new governor will have to do, and soon, is start grappling with some very big issues. Next year’s budget will require around a billion dollars worth of cuts and other measures to end in the black. And the state is about to enter the political hotbed of redistricting. For new office-holders tired from the long election cycle, things may be about to get even busier.