Tuesday, November 2, 2004
The bitter and expensive 3rd Congressional District race between Republican Greg Walcher and Democrat John Salazar appears to have ended with a slim victory for the Democrat.
With nearly 90 percent of voting precincts reporting results as of 2:30 a.m. today, Salazar built a 5 percent lead in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis.
"We've been seeing a pretty consistent lead all night," Jim Merlino, Salazar's campaign manager, said from Pueblo's Union Depot, where Salazar watched the results trickle in. "We're cautiously optimistic."
Salazar, a one-term state representative and potato farmer from the San Luis Valley, consistently led Walcher in polls preceding Tuesday's general election. But any advantage Salazar enjoyed in pre-election surveys seemed to disappear on Election Day, when the candidates remained neck and neck throughout the evening.
Salazar's campaign focused largely on his status as an Army veteran, rural farmer and supporter of Western Slope water.
"John ran a positive campaign, and I think people responded to that positive message," Merlino said.
The campaign also consistently attacked Walcher for his support of Referendum A, a failed 2003 ballot initiative viewed by many Western Slope residents as a Front Range water grab.
Walcher, a Palisade peach grower and former director of the state Department of Natural Resources, centered his campaign on cutting taxes, downsizing the federal government, reforming the Endangered Species Act and preserving access to public lands.
Like Salazar's campaign, the Walcher camp remained optimistic that the results would turn in its candidate's favor.
"We're trying to figure out how many votes are still out there," Walcher campaign manager John Marshall said near midnight. "It's hard to be pessimistic or optimistic until all the votes are counted, but we're pleased with where we are."
The race to replace McInnis, a six-term representative from Grand Junction, has been especially hard-fought. The Republican Party hopes to maintain its stronghold on the district while the Democrats try to seize a rare opportunity to pick up a congressional seat in a traditionally Republican district.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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