Colorado incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper has been re-elected to a second term.
By 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, some 12 and half hours after the polls closed, multiple media organizations including The Denver Post were projecting the win over Republican challenger Bob Beauprez with votes left to count in Boulder and Denver counties. The win is the largest for Democrats in the state following strong Republican victories, notably in the U.S. Senate with Cory Gardner defeating incumbent Senator Mark Udall.
"Most of all we want to thank Colorado," Hickenlooper said during his official remarks at the capitol following the race call in his favor. He went on to add that he was proud of running a positive campaign.
"Now is not the time to be complacent, it is the moment to seize the bit and move forward. It's that opportunity to come together as a state and seize this momentum that we have."
It was the toughest challenge of Hickenlooper's career in public office. He was easily elected to a first term as Governor, prior to that he spent eight years as the popular mayor of Denver. Merely months ago polls showed high favorability ratings for Hickenlooper and political observers expected him to easily skate to victory.
"He's made some difficult decisions. With the death penalty and Nathan Dunlap," said Speaker of the house Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver). "He's taken some courageous stands from personal belief system and I applaud him for that but it has been tough."
During his tenure as Governor, Hickenlooper contended with tragedies such as the Aurora Theater Shooting, and the state's devastating wildfires and floods. But those issues didn't define the race. It was marked by public safety, and the death penalty. Hickenlooper gave convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a stay of execution, something Beauprez repeatedly criticized him for. Beauprez also highlighted the murder of Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements, who was gunned down by a parolee.
"My intention still is to raise the serious question about John Hickenlooper's record on public safety," Beauprez said at a debate before the election. "I think that need to be a Governor's first responsibility is to protect and defend the safety of the citizens..."
Others thought the stricter gun laws Democrats passed and the Governor signed played into the closeness of the race. Jason Krueger, a Denver attorney that grew near Steamboat Springs, attended the Democratic watch party on election night. His family has a cattle ranch in Craig, and he's familiar with the headwinds the governor faced over some of his decisions.
"There's a lot of gun owners out there, especially on the Western Slope. You know, it's a Second Amendment right," said Kreuger. "I respected what Hickenlooper did. I think it was the right thing to do. However I heard a lot of rumblings from my family and different parts of the state that this might cost him."
Many saw the race more of a referendum on Hickenlooper rather than support for Beauprez. In the end, Hickenlooper bucked the GOP wave that took out many incumbents across the country including Udall. Hickenlooper said the close victory wouldn't change how he governs.
"I plan to try and bring people together collaboratively," said Hickenlooper.
Update 3:52 p.m. - Bob Beauprez has conceded the race with John Hickenlooper. In a statement released on Twitter, Beauprez said he spoke with the Governor and "congratulated him on a hard fought race." You can read the full statement online.