DENVER – After five debates and months of campaigning, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez are locked in a tight race.
It’s been a contest dominated by clashes over how the state regulates fracking, the governor’s controversial decision to halt an execution and the candidates’ disagreement about how well Colorado has weathered economic woes.
Now the ballots have been mailed and the candidates have less than three weeks to convince voters. Both campaigns and outside groups are spending millions of dollars on the race they believe is tied.
This is the state’s first general election where every registered voter will receive a ballot by mail. It’s possible the bulk of the votes will be in by Nov. 4, which makes the debating and campaigning happening right now more crucial than ever.
For Hickenlooper, a two-time Denver mayor, the election is his toughest yet. When he was elected governor four years ago, Republicans didn’t mount a serious challenge.
For Beauprez, a buffalo rancher who grew up working on his father’s dairy farm, this is a chance at redemption after a humiliating 17-point defeat when he ran for governor in 2006. If he wins, it would mark the first time Republicans have won the state’s top office since 2002.
Hickenlooper’s biggest pitch to voters is the improving economy in Colorado, where the unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, compared to 9.1 percent four years ago. Hickenlooper said the economic recovery has occurred despite several natural disasters the state has faced, including wildfires and last year’s floods.
“We did this by working together. Not by picking fights or attacking each other,” Hickenlooper said during the Colorado Springs debate.
Beauprez says Colorado’s recovery is not as robust as it should be, and he’s called for less government regulation.
“Let’s be great again. Let’s be that robust, nation-leading economy, not middle-of-the-pack, or average,” he said.
Beauprez has repeatedly accused Hickenlooper of failing to be a decisive leader.
On fracking, Beauprez has criticized a deal brokered by Hickenlooper to get groups planning to put competing fracking measures on the ballot to agree to back off and instead study the issue.
Hickenlooper argues the deal was a way to avoid a costly battle that wouldn’t solve the issue. But Beauprez said he doubts the commission will resolve the fracking debate for good.
Hickenlooper’s decision last year to grant an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap has also triggered attacks, including TV ads from the Republican Governors Association. Dunlap was convicted in the 1993 killings of four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“The biggest concern from the minds of voters is whether this governor is able to make a decision when it’s a tough one to make,” said Ryan Call, the state Republican Party chair.
Democrats, meanwhile, are describing Beauprez as ultra-conservative, particularly when it comes to women’s reproductive choices. In a debate a couple of weeks ago, Beauprez said that intrauterine devices, or IUDs, cause abortions. The devices are a common form of birth control used to prevent pregnancy.
Beauprez has since said that he won’t interfere with women’s birth-control choices, even though he opposes abortion and the use of IUDs.
Although few gave Beauprez a chance when he entered the race in February, Rick Palacio, the state Democratic Party chair, said Democrats never took the race for granted.
“This is what I’ve been predicting from the very beginning,” Palacio said. “Colorado is a swing state, it’s a purple state.”
Nearly 28,000 people have already voted, including nearly 12,800 Republicans, and just over 8,700 Democrats. Unaffiliated voters have cast nearly 5,900 ballots in a state evenly divided three ways among Republicans, Democrats and independents.