Denver The Denver Post is reporting that incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet has defeated Republican challenger Ken Buck in the country’s tightest U.S. Senate race.
Bennet, appointed as a relative political unknown 22 months ago by Gov. Bill Ritter, declared victory in a press conference at Denver's City Park this afternoon.
Ken Buck said he called Senator Michael Bennet this afternoon to congratulate him on winning the U.S. Senate race.
"My Senate campaign has been the experience of a lifetime. I will be forever grateful to the thousands of Coloradans who helped make this grass-roots journey possible,” Buck said in a statement.
Bennet holds a 47.7 to 46.8 percent lead — about 15,400 votes as of 1 p.m. today — which is beyond the automatic recount threshold.
The race, which most polls predicted would be tight, lived up to expectations. As of midnight, the candidates stood only a few thousand votes apart, each with about 47 percent of the vote with about 80 percent of the precincts reporting.
Late Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that the race might be headed for a recount. Some projections showed the race coming within a half of a percentage point, which would trigger a mandatory recount under state law.
In Routt County, Bennet claimed 5,140 votes, or 58.8 percent. Buck had 3,595 votes, or 41.2 percent.
Many Republicans were perplexed as to why the U.S. Senate race was as tight as it was amid what they perceived as widespread Republican momentum.
“It’s a little strange seeing it this close,” said Marc Massey, an attorney and Buck supporter, who was sipping wine at the Greenwood Village victory party. “Some parts of this state we’ve seen big Republican surges, but maybe not in the metro area.”
Sean Tonner, a GOP strategist who helped Buck’s opponent Jane Norton in the primary, agreed.
“It’s a little closer than I thought it’d be,” he said. “This is a big year for Republicans, and it’s still close.”
The result carried implications for the balance of power in the Senate — which, with the Democrats’ loss of the House, looms crucial for President Barack Obama’s ability to continue his agenda. Although Republicans needed a net gain of 10 seats to assume the Senate majority, late returns had them falling short of gaining control.
Bennet filled the term of former Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who became interior secretary.
The razor-thin margin heading into the wee hours this morning had Democratic officials noting that, when every vote is tabulated, the difference may be as little as 2,000 votes.
Then, provisional ballots will have to be counted — a process that takes days — and Colorado reported much higher than usual provisional ballots Tuesday, according to Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.
All night, both parties exuded optimism.
“We are seeing a groundswell of support for Michael across the state, and that’s encouraging,” said Trevor Kincaid, Bennet’s campaign spokesman.
At the GOP gathering, the crowd morphed from sleepy to elated as the night dragged on and returns showed Buck closing the gap.
“Buck! Buck! Buck!” the crowd chanted, as Fox News noted the challenger’s deficit disappearing.
State Republican chairman Dick Wadhams said the constantly shifting political climate makes Colorado an interesting stage.
“It’s always completely different every year, different issues,” he said. “And it’s all going to be different again in 2012. We start tomorrow.”
Sen. Mark Udall added that the Democrats’ computer modeling suggested Bennet was hitting his projections in every part of the state.
“It appears our get-out-the-vote operation is producing,” Udall said. But he added that it felt odd not to be running a race of his own.
“You get used to being on the ballot,” he said. “I’m like a parent who’s watching his kids go out and battle. But I’m listening to voters, as well. They’re saying get to work on jobs and please work together.”
While Democratic party leaders huddled behind a curtained off area of the hotel ballroom to check computer results, Jessie Ulibarri, from a coalition of Latino get out the vote groups, said high voter turnout among Latinos will help shape 2012 no matter who wins the Senate race.
“We’ll refocus and show how big the Latino voting bloc has become,” said Ulibarri. “It’s a long battle. We’ll continue fighting.”