- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

DENVER — This once reliably red state was teetering on the brink of going blue last night, starting with the governor’s race.

With 4 percent of the vote counted, Democrat Bill Ritter was the projected winner over Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez in the contest to succeed Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who is leaving office after serving the maximum two terms.

Mr. Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, emphasized his moderate stances, including his personal opposition to abortion and pride as a hunter and gun owner, in an effort to lure independent voters.

His popularity was expected to buoy the rest of the Democratic ticket, which has also benefited this year from the deep pockets of liberal Colorado multimillionaires Pat Stryker and Tim Gill.

“It’s very likely Colorado is going to be solidly blue state after tonight,” Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said. “It looks like a complete flip from four years ago. Democrats will probably hold the governor’s office, both houses of the legislature and most of the congressional seats for the first time since the early 1960s.”

Republicans now hold a 4-3 advantage in the state’s House districts, but that was expected to change last night as the party’s candidates struggled to stop Democrats from flipping three Republican seats. Only one Republican, Rep. Tom Tancredo, was considered safe.

In the normally Republican-friendly 4th District, incumbent Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave was running in a statistical tie with Democratic state Rep. Angie Paccione with 4 percent of the vote counted.

Miss Paccione criticized the Republican incumbent for her close relationship with President Bush and emphasis on social issues such as traditional marriage. Mrs. Musgrave ran ads saying her Democratic challenger had declared bankruptcy rather than pay off her student loans.

In Colorado Springs, home of the staunchly conservative 5th District, former Republican state Sen. Doug Lamborn was leading Democrat Jay Fawcett — by 55 percent to 45 percent — with 4 percent of the vote counted.

The outgoing incumbent, Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, threw the race into turmoil in August when he refused to support Mr. Lamborn, the winner of a tight six-candidate primary, saying he had run a “sleazy and dishonest” campaign.

In the race to succeed Mr. Beauprez in the 7th District, Democrat Ed Perlmutter, the former state senator, was ahead — 56 percent to 42 percent with 4 percent of the vote counted — in his battle with Republican Rick O’Donnell, Mr. Owens’ former policy adviser.

The suburban Denver district is known as one of the most evenly divided in the nation. Mr. Beauprez won the seat in 2002 by just 126 votes, earning him the nickname “Landslide Bob.”

But Mr. Perlmutter, benefiting from his greater name recognition from his legislative career, led his Republican opponent from the start. Democrats also hit hard with ads on some of Mr. O’Donnell’s early policy pronouncements, such as a 2004 article in which he suggested that 17-year-old boys forgo their senior years in high school to patrol the Mexican border.

Early returns showed the state’s three Democratic congressional incumbents — Reps. Diana DeGette, John Salazar and Mark Udall — were coasting to victory.

Meanwhile, on the state’s crowded initiative ballot, Amendment 44, which would legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older, was behind 53 percent to 47 percent. Two years ago, Denver voters approved an identical measure, paving the way for the statewide campaign.

Democrats were expected to hold both houses of the state legislature. The party captured the state House and Senate, formerly held by Republicans, in 2004, touching off the state’s Democratic surge.

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