By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
LITTLETON — By 10 p.m. Tuesday night, the ballroom at the Park Meadows Marriott was left to a few reporters and hotel staff cleaning up the room. Purple balloons still hung high in the air, tethered to tables around the room, seemingly waiting for a celebration that would never come. A stack of “Jane Norton for Colorado” signs at the ballroom’s entrance laid on a table, mostly untouched.
In her concession speech at 9:25 p.m., Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton endorsed her primary opponent, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, and promised that the work of Republicans “to take back” the country must continue.
“Tonight, voters have decided the standard bearer will be Ken Buck,” Norton told a crowd of about 100. But “this race is about more than Ken Buck and Jane Norton and 30-second TV spots and glossy campaign materials. It’s about America and our future.”
Norton was down in the polls as much as 16 points just two weeks ago but rallied this week to be as much as two points ahead. But Tuesday night “it was not quite enough,” she said. “It’s the hand we were dealt.” Norton told the crowd to be proud of the race and the work they did on her behalf. “This has been an incredible journey. I’m privileged to have participated in the process.” Norton said she had learned a lot while on the campaign trail, saying what she learned most was about the “incredibly generous virtue of the people of Colorado. You have taught me the strength of the American spirit and I believe that spirit will lift our republic again…well done, my friends.”
Supporters cheered amongst a few tears, and one lone supporter called out “Jane for governor!” to which Norton did not respond.
Norton’s supporters on hand Tuesday night included a handful of state legislators and former elected officials, including campaign co-chair and former Gov. Bill Owens; former state treasurer Mark Hillman; current House Reps. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, Amy Stephens, R-Monument, Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood; and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial.
The mood of the crowd throughout the evening was quiet with little cheering. Only once did voices rise, when the winner of the Democratic senate contest was announced — and a few boos could be heard. The room got quieter still at 8 p.m. when supporters watched early returns showing Buck up by about 4,000 votes. When the margin grew to about 11,000 votes by 8:30 p.m. Gerou told The Colorado Statesman that Norton would be the only candidate who could beat Democratic challenger Michael Bennet, saying money made the difference in the Bennet-Andrew Romanoff contest and with Bennet as the Democratic nominee, Norton would be the best at raising funds for the fall race.
While supporters waited out election night returns and Norton’s appearance, the conversation among many was as much about the governor’s race as it was about the Buck-Norton showdown. Campaign manager Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, grim-faced Tuesday night, turned away questions about the possibility of his running for governor should the eventual Republican gubernatorial step down, saying the night belonged to Norton — he would “cry in his beer tonight” — and deal with the future tomorrow.
Despite the Norton loss, Owens was philosophical about what the night’s election results means for Colorado and the nation. “We have energy on our side in the nation and in Colorado,” Owens told The Statesman. “Republican turnout is significantly higher,” he said, noting that nationally, Republican interest in the November election is currently drawing about 50 percent of registered Republican voters, while Democratic interest is around 21 percent. He acknowledged that those numbers will shift between now and then, but that he believes Republicans will still likely do better in November because their turnout and interest in the races will be higher.
Owens acknowledged the problems at the top of the ticket, but said that having two Republicans running for governor (Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo, despite his claims that he’s left the Republican Party) will drive higher Republican turnout. He explained that while those voters may split on the governor, the higher turnout will benefit the Republican senate candidate. “The worst news for [Democrat candidate and U.S. Sen.] Michael Bennet was Tom Tancredo getting into the race,” Owens said.
Stephens told The Statesman the night’s results were “bittersweet. Jane was the epitome of class and grace,” she said. But then she turned her attention to the other race that got so much attention for Republicans — the Maes/McInnis battle — and said Buck’s win means he would have the momentum of the party going into November.
To quote his comedic heroes Laurel & Hardy, Kerr told The Statesman that the governor’s race was an example of “this is another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into…you couldn’t write a script for this!”
The Norton/Buck race drew the most votes of the three Republican statewide contests Tuesday night, according to unofficial results posted by the Denver Post — more than 407,000 votes cast; compared to 387,769 for the Maes/McInnis race and 354,459 for the state treasurer contest between winner Walker Stapleton and J.J. Ament. Among the state’s largest counties Norton’s biggest vote pickups were in Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson and Mesa counties. She also won El Paso County; Stephens pointed out that it is a Tea Party stronghold but went for Norton anyway. Among the largest counties Buck won Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Pueblo counties. Not surprisingly, he also won Weld County, with a more than 3:1 margin.
Republican turnout, as marked by the Norton/Buck race, was about 47 percent of all registered Republican voters, based on June registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s office.