- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

DENVER — Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar last night was the projected winner of the Colorado Senate contest against brewing executive Pete Coors in a contest that lived up to its billing as one of the closest in the nation.

With 79 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Salazar held a narrow lead with 50 percent of the vote. Mr. Coors was right behind with 48 percent.

Although neither candidate had spoken publicly as of press time, several networks and local television stations had declared Mr. Salazar the winner by 1 a.m. EST.

Some precincts reported long lines, even after the polls were officially scheduled to close. Voting was brisk throughout the day, despite temperatures that remained below freezing until about noon.

The race had been considered critical in deciding the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 51-48 majority.

But it looked as if Republicans held their Senate majority and possibly picked up seats, even without a victory for Mr. Coors.

The seat widely was considered a Republican lock until March, when GOP Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell unexpectedly announced his resignation owing to health concerns. Mr. Campbell previously had said he would seek a third term.

Republican Gov. Bill Owens was seen as the favorite to succeed him, but when he declined to run, Mr. Salazar jumped into the race. A popular two-term state attorney general, Mr. Salazar, 49, quickly assumed front-runner status.

Mr. Coors, 58, entered the race several weeks later, becoming the nominee after defeating former Rep. Bob Schaffer in the August primary.

The chairman of the Coors Brewing Co., Mr. Coors is a well-known figure in Colorado, thanks to his television appearances in beer ads and his role as a prominent philanthropist.

Statewide polls showed the two candidates running virtually neck and neck throughout the campaign season. Mr. Salazar won the bulk of the state’s newspaper endorsements, including those of the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, which cited his lengthy experience in state politics.

A first-time candidate, Mr. Coors was expected to benefit from the state’s Republican voter-registration edge. A dozen liberal registration groups descended on the state this fall, but the latest count showed that the state still has about 179,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.

Like many of this year’s campaigns, the Senate contest was unusually acrimonious, despite the low-key, easygoing nature of the two candidates. Mr. Salazar tried to paint Mr. Coors as an out-of-touch millionaire, while Mr. Coors characterized his opponent as a litigation-happy lawyer.

Mr. Coors, who has appeared several times with President Bush, has emphasized his support for the president’s war on terror and his tax cuts. The lanky Republican also wants to end the inheritance tax and use his business experience to create jobs.

Mr. Salazar, who mostly avoided appearing with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, ran as a centrist, saying that he supported the Bush administration’s tax cuts for everyone except the rich. He also said he wanted to see more international involvement in the war in Iraq.

Both campaigns saw millions of dollars in negative advertising from outside committees. Both were hit on their environmental records, while Democrats blasted Mr. Coors for what they said was his support for lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.

Mr. Coors, who countered that lowering the drinking age wasn’t on his agenda, criticized Mr. Salazar for supporting higher taxes and firing a whistleblower during his tenure as head of the Department of Natural Resources.

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