Republican Al White of Winter Park won't waste any time making the transition to his new role as state representative from District 56, which includes Routt County. He'll be in Denver today casting votes of his own in the Republican leadership election, which includes ballots for speaker of the house and majority leader.
White narrowly retained the Colorado House District 56 seat for his party Tuesday night, defeating Democrat Jay Fetcher of Routt County with a 326 vote margin out of almost 31,000 ballots cast.
The final vote was 15,666 in favor of White and 15,340 for Fetcher. The two men were seeking the seat vacated by state Rep. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, because of term limitations.
"It proves with hard work, a guy can come out of political nowhere to prevail," White said Wednesday. He was referring to the fact that his eight years of public service are limited to membership in special recreation and water and sanitation districts.
White, who owns ski shops and has owned a small ski lodge in Winter Park, said his background in business makes the House Business Affairs Committee an appealing appointment for him if he can land it.
The outcome of the election was unknown at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday with White leading by about 450 votes, but Jackson and Garfield counties struggling to count the votes. The only portion of Garfield County in the house district is the city of Carbondale. Fetcher won there, 1,078 to 649, but it wasn't enough to make up the difference when Jackson County finally went for White, 633 to 223.
White's margin of victory was close to 1 percent but, according to Colorado law, a candidate may not ask for a recall unless the margin of defeat is .5 percent or less. Fetcher said he wasn't interested in pursuing a recount.
White said despite the closeness of the vote, he feels he has a mandate from the people who voted for him.
"The 50.5 percent who voted for me were a mandate, and they expect me to deliver on the issues I campaigned on," White said. "I don't think the 49.5 percent who voted for Jay are expecting anything different from me."
White said he hopes to visit all of the counties in his district at least once a month, and pledged open and frequent communication.
Fetcher on Wednesday had a straightforward explanation for the outcome: "The other guy got more votes. I'm feeding cows and getting back to reality."
Fetcher said he knew going into Election Day that he had to break even in Eagle County. As it turned out, White built a 550 vote leader in Routt County's neighbor to the south along the I-70 corridor.
The candidates did not know the outcome of the election before they went to bed.
Unofficial tallies from the five counties in the district at 2:30 a.m. had White ahead by 468 votes out of almost 29,000 votes cast in the race. The difficulty in determining the winner could be traced to Jackson County and the city of Carbondale, where election officials were still struggling to count the ballots.
Jackson County has 1,272 registered voters including 800 Republicans and 222 Democrats, but had only counted 332 for White and 117 for Fetcher by morning. In Carbondale, the only portion of Garfield County in District 56, election officials had only counted 185 votes for White and 277 for Fetcher, out of 2,900 registered voters.
Fetcher, a well-known local cattle rancher who has been involved in land preservation causes and served as president of the Steamboat school board, won handily in Routt County, piling up 5,937 votes to 3,171 for White.
However, White returned the favor in his home county of Grand with 4,230 votes to 1,695 for Fetcher. White was able to pull off a narrow win in Eagle County, the most populous in the district. He pulled 6,983 votes in Eagle County to 6,407 for Fetcher.
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