DENVER | The Republican juggernaut lost a bit of its steam once it hit the Rocky Mountains, with Democrats and Republicans largely splitting the key contested races for governor and Senate, and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet pulling out a win in a race that was only called late Wednesday.
While Republicans were able to flip Democratic House seats in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates were unable to replicate the success of their counterparts in the Midwest and South, coming up just short in nearly every close call.
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli attributed the Republican fall-off in part to the independent nature of Western voters.
“In the West, there’s less of a partisan political climate than in the East or Midwest,” said Mr. Ciruli. “We have far more unaffiliated voters and far more weak partisans.”
He also credited Democrats for deftly executing their strategy of distancing themselves from President Obama while painting their Republican foes as dangerous extremists.
“The Democratic Party playbook was to make this a contest between the two candidates and not a referendum on Barack Obama; to call your opponent extreme, and to spend a whole lot of money doing it,” said Mr. Ciruli.
Following up on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tough win in Nevada and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s re-election in California, Mr. Bennet on Wednesday became the third Western Senate Democrat to scrape through, besting Republican Ken Buck, a “tea party”-backed district attorney from Weld County.
With 97 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Bennet led by a margin of 48 percent to 47 percent. Mr. Buck called him Wednesday afternoon to congratulate him on his win.
“Yesterday, Colorado chose to move our state and this country forward,” said Mr. Bennet, who was appointed to the seat when incumbent Ken Salazar was named to President Obama’s Cabinet. “I will do everything I can to live up to the confidence you have placed in me.”
The race, the most expensive Senate contest in the nation, saw Mr. Buck hammering the Democrat’s votes in favor of health care, the stimulus package and the Wall Street bailout. Mr. Bennet countered by blasting the Republican as “too extreme for Colorado,” pointing to his stand on abortion and other social issues.
The same strategy was on display in Nevada, where Mr. Reid managed early on to paint Republican Sharron Angle as a radical right-winger and make her stances, not his, the central issue of the campaign.
Despite his own soaring negative ratings, Mr. Reid won more comfortably than expected, pulling in 50 percent of the vote to Mrs. Angle’s 45 percent.
In California, it was as if voters never heard of the tea party, rejecting a pair of insurgent Republicans in favor of a pair of old-time Democrats. Former Gov. Jerry Brown won a third term 27 years after the end of his previous stint as governor, and Mrs. Boxer kept her Senate seat over former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina.
Still, Republicans claimed enough victories to hold their own in the West. Republican Brian Sandoval easily outdistanced Democrat Rory Reid, Harry Reid’s son, in the Nevada gubernatorial contest.
In New Mexico, Republican Susana Martinez won the governor’s race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, making her the nation’s first female Hispanic governor and giving the Republicans a gubernatorial pickup.