DENVER (AP) -- Sen. Michael Bennet narrowly defeated tea party Republican Ken Buck on Wednesday, allowing Democrats to hold onto a Senate seat once viewed a prime opportunity for the GOP to make gains.
Bennet provided a crucial firewall against further Republican gains in the Senate during midterm elections in which the GOP made a historic surge. Many polls showed that Buck had a small lead heading into the election.
The race attracted more out-of-state campaign money than any other Senate contest this year, prompting a stream of vicious attack ads as both parties viewed the race as the one that could tip the balance of power in Congress.
"This is definitely a race for the record books," Bennet said in a victory speech outside the Denver museum where President Barack Obama last year signed the stimulus bill into law.
Bennet urged sharply divided Colorado voters and politicians to "set aside our petty differences and make sure this state and this country lead in the 21st century." And he congratulated Buck, saying, "I honor his commitment to public service."
With 97 percent of the projected vote counted, Bennet was leading by about 15,400 votes out of 1.4 million cast.
Buck didn't immediately concede the race.
"We are still looking where returns need to be reported, as well as provisional ballots before making any decisions," Buck said in a post on his Facebook page.
Bennet, 45, was appointed to the seat last year to replace Ken Salazar, who became Interior Secretary. Before his appointment, Bennet was superintendent of Denver Public Schools and had never run for public office.
Democrats retained control of the Senate on Tuesday, though they lost at least six seats to the GOP. Senate races in Washington and Alaska were too close to call Wednesday.
With the Senate victory, Democrats were able to beat back strong GOP challenges in the midterms. Democrat John Hickenlooper won the governor's race, although Republicans picked up two House seats in the state.
During the Colorado campaign, Bennet painted Buck as too conservative, especially on social issues. Buck opposes abortion rights, even in cases of rape and incest, and considers sexual orientation a choice.
Bennet and the Democrats pounded Buck with attack ads calling him "too extreme for Colorado."
Buck sought to portray Bennet as part of the problem in Washington as the federal government carries out reckless spending.
Among the heavy-hitters coming to Buck's assistance was American Crossroads, a conservative group affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove that spent millions on ads attacking Bennet.
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UPDATE (8:20 AM): The Denver Post and other Colorado media outlets are calling the Senate race for Michael Bennet. As the Post points out, there are still 30,000 votes out in Boulder County, most of which figure to be for Bennet, who already leads by 7,000 votes.
The Buck campaign has not yet conceded anything yet. In a tweet, KUSA's Adam Schrager quotes a Buck spokesman saying "[w]e are still looking where returns need to be reported, as well as provisional ballots before making any decisions."
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UPDATE (11/3): As expected, Michael Bennet has inched ahead overnight, taking a 774,410-767,470 lead with 87% reporting. However, as the AP reports, neither campaign is fully expecting to be declared a winner before a recount takes place, which would happen automatically if neither candidate pulls ahead by more that half a percentage point.
DENVER (AP) -- Colorado's Senate candidates are preparing for a possible recount in their neck-and-neck contest.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck were within a few thousand votes of each other with more than 1.4 million ballots counted. Thousands of provisional and write-in ballots remained to be counted.
Some projections showed the race could end up within half of 1 percentage point. That would trigger an automatic recount under Colorado law, and parties said last week they'd be ready for such a scenario.
Elections officials have until Nov. 26 to verify the full vote and order a recount.
Bennet is seeking his first full term after being appointed to the seat last year. Buck courted tea party groups with a promise to cut spending and push for a federal balanced budget amendment.
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The eyes of the nation will once again be on Colorado this election day as the state plays host to the nation's closest races. Indeed, few states have as much at stake this Tuesday as the Centennial State, where Democrats are at risk of losing a Senate seat, and nearly half of the state's Congressional delegation.
Few states will also be seen as a more telling barometer of how Congress will look when the new session opens in 2011. The Washington Post's "The Fix" blog calls the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet and GOP challenger Ken Buck one of the six races that "are certain to determine whether Republicans have a good night or a great one Tuesday."
The race is widely considered to be the closest in the nation, with Buck leading by an average of just over one point in public polls.
Meanwhile, three Democratically-controlled house races in the 3rd (John Salazar), 4th (Betsy Markey) and 7th (Ed Perlmutter) Congressional districts will be in play.
There's also been a double-digit discrepancy in public polling on the state's Governor's race, where right wing firebrand Tom Tancredo has--regardless of which pollster you ask--come closer to Democrat John Hickenlooper than anyone expected when he entered the race as the American Constitution Party candidate in July.
The Huff Post will be updating this blog throughout the day with the latest developments from around the state.
Check back this evening for the up-to-the-second returns from all of the state's major races.
3:23 AM ET Senate Race Won't Be Called Tonight, Bennet In Strong Position
Reports are indicating that neither Michael Bennet nor Ken Buck will be declared the winner in the Colorado Senate race until at least tomorrow. As the candidates head home, Buck is maintaining a slight lead with 73% of precincts reporting. However, as several outlets are reporting, the precincts that haven't reported yet should leave the Bennet campaign feeling confident.
As Slate's Dave Weigel points out in a tweet, 89% of Arapahoe, 52% of Jefferson, 46% of Denver, 37% of Boulder counties have not reported their results, leaving a clear path for Bennet to close the gap with Buck and then some.
Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight predicts a Buck victory of 3-4 points based on numbers in the remaining counties.
2:39 AM ET Tipton Beats Salazar In CD-3
In what has to be one of the starkest signs of how drastically times have changed since 2006, Republican Scott Tipton has defeated Democrat John Salazar in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District just four years after losing to him by 24 points.
Salazar, the brother of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, defeated Tipton 61-37 in 2006 to win his first reelection. This year, Tipton claimed victory after jumping to a 50-46 lead with 90% of precincts reporting.
1:28 AM ET Buck-Bennet Could Be Headed Toward Recount
After a brief period of confusion during which faulty numbers showed Ken Buck winning in liberal Boulder County, the latest updates show just a few thousand votes separating Buck and Michael Bennet. The candidates are both receiving roughly 47% of the votes counted with 57% of precincts reporting. Under Colorado law, an automatic recount will take effect if the margin separating the candidates is less that 0.5% of total votes cast.
11:34 PM ET Bennet-Buck Still Up In The Air
10:58 PM ET Anti-Health Care Reform Initiative Fails
BREAKING: Denver Post projects that effort to stop implementation of health care reform in Colorado fails.
Tweet From The Denver Post
10:46 PM ET CBS Calls CD07 For Perlmutter
CBS4 Denver is calling the 6th Congressional District for Democratic Incumbent Ed Perlmutter over Republican Ryan Frazier.
10:15 PM ET Gardner Looks Like A Winner
The Fort Collins Coloradoan writes that Cory Gardner looks "headed to victory" over incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey in CD-04.
Gardner built a 7-point lead in early returns from the sprawling district's most populous counties – Larimer, Weld and Boulder – and was poised to return the 4th Congressional District seat to Republican control after a two-year Democratic intermission.
Gardner had been heavily favored in the traditionally Republican district, which Markey won in 2008 after 36 consecutive years of GOP representation.
10:05 PM ET Early Results Positive For Bennet
"Early votes in Denver, Bldr, Mesa, Weld, Pueblo, Douglas, Jeffco shows Bennet: 262,088 and Buck with 224,818
Tweet from KUSA's Adam Schrager
10:00 PM ET Good News For Tancredo
"Sec'y state Buescher says extraordinarily high provisional ballots due to voters with filled ballots asking to switch to Tancredo"
-Tweet From The Denver Post's Michael Booth
8:49 PM ET Motivated By Unemployment
Spencer Crona of Denver, Col. reports that his household, having been affected by job loss in the past two years, voted Democrat -- with relish: "My wife, with 21+ years of litigation experience, was released 22 months ago from her county employment as an assistant county attorney due to budgetary reductions as a result of the economic depression, and she has been on a determined but fruitless job search since then, while doing contract work," Crona wrote. "And, oh yeah, you bet we voted. Couldn't wait to vote especially against Ken Buck (US Senate race against Michael Bennet), Tom Tancredo (Colorado Governor race against John Hickenlooper) and Walker Stapleton (Colorado Treasurer race against Cary Kennedy) as Colorado's own various candidate representatives of the government-hating Tea Party morons who claim to be against the 'establishment' and 'corporate bailouts' yet serve as feverishly willing minions for a right-wing extremist plutocrat agenda."
8:31 PM ET Record Number Of Provisional Ballots; Dems In Court Over Arapahoe County Practices
KMGH in Denver is reporting a record number of provisional ballots being filled out in Colorado, leading to a shortage in at least ten counties. In some of these cases, KGMH reports that voters are surrendering their mail-in ballots in order to change their votes.
The Secretary of State has said that--despite the shortages--anyone wanting to vote using a provisional ballot will be allowed to, and has authorized county clerks to make photocopies of provisional ballots.
6:19 PM ET Hick Email To Supporters: 'Voter Turnout Is Lower Than Expected'
The Hickenlooper campaign sent this email to supporters Tuesday afternoon urging them to help with GOTV efforts.
You're probably expecting some kind of funny story from me, about how I was out early this morning meeting voters and spilled my coffee all over my handbills or was chased around by someone's poodle while I was out door knocking.
Well, that didn't happen -- at least not yet. But there's still three hours to go, so you never know.
But here's something that isn't funny. From what I've seen, voter turnout is lower than expected and that's not good for our team. We urgently need you to vote, and if you've already voted, we need you to get your friends and family out to the polls.
Speaking of which, have you voted? If not, please click here to find your polling location.
If so, I'd really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes right now to call some other voters and make sure that they get to the polls today. Our calling tool will let you work from anywhere, so please click here to get calling.
You'd be surprised at how much just a few calls can help turn out our supporters.
And, I'll keep you posted if I end up on the wrong end of a poodle attack.
Thanks again -- for everything.
5:53 PM ET Buck: "This Isn't Going To Be A Close Race"
The AP catches a moment of bravado from Ken Buck. "They keep asking whether this is going to be a close race. This isn't going to be a close race," Buck reportedly told supporters Monday.
3:36 PM ET Updated Turnout Numbers
Roughly 493,000 registered Republicans have voted, compared to roughly 419,000 Democrats and roughly 291,000 unaffiliated voters through noon Tuesday. That's 57.2% of active Republican voters in the state, 52.4% of active Democrats and 38.4% of unaffiliated voters.
See the county-by-county breakdown below.
3:14 PM ET CSU Runs Out Of Ballots, GOP Still Up In Larimer County
Politico reports that voting locations at Colorado State University in Fort Collins ran out of ballots Tuesday morning. More ballots had to be delivered to the locations. The Bennet campaign is trumpeting the news as a positive sign.
However, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reports that 30,762 registered Republicans had voted in Larimer County (home of CSU), compared to 23,272 Democrats.
2:32 PM ET Big Turnout In Boulder?
The Boulder Daily Camera cites election officials' reports and analysis in predicting a big turnout in the liberal stronghold.
Around 119,000 people are expected to vote in Boulder County this election and, with 78,269 already received through mail-in and early voting, [Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary] Hall said this morning's busy polls could mean a bigger turnout then expected. The polls are open until 7 p.m.
Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2-1 in early voting in Boulder County.
12:56 PM ET Tea Party Spelling Problems
Confusion continues to abound in the Fourth Congressional District, where two weeks ago an attack ad confused incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey's voting record with that of Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey.
The latest SNAFU? Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks tea party group misspelled their own candidate's name on a yard sign. Politico has the PHOTO:
12:24 PM ET Sitting This One Out
At least one Coloradan in a key Congressional district is sitting out the mid-terms. The Huff Post's Arthur Delaney has her story, which may shed some light on what's motivating voters Colorado and around the country.
Linda Cooks of Aurora, Col. is feeling unenthusiastic about voting Tuesday after a year in which she said her hours were cut, her bank burned her when she tried to modify her mortgage and her senators ignored her when she visited Washington to lobby for legislation to make it easier to form unions.
"Why even bother? They're not for us. Us working stiffs don't stand a chance," Cooks told HuffPost. "I said I would go vote, but deep in my heart, from what I've seeing, the government is not working for us, they're working for the big people."
Adams County records show that Tuesday is the deadline for Cooks to pay her arrears before her house goes up for sale at a foreclosure auction. She's behind by ,545.
Cooks said she makes .80 as an overnight stocker at Walmart, where she's worked for the past nine years. She said she first asked Bank of America for a mortgage modification when her hours were reduced last summer. The bank, she claims, refused to help because she was still current on her payments.
11:31 AM ET GOP early voting advantage: what does it mean?
A considerable majority of the 1,093,600 ballots already counted as of Monday, November 1 have belonged to registered Republicans. According to figures provided by the Secretary of State's office, 445,445 Republican ballots have been submitted, compared to 383,925 Democratic ballots and 257,645 unaffiliated.
As the Denver Post points out in Tuesday's paper, it is very difficult to make prediction based solely on early voting numbers, as nobody is quite sure how many ballots will be cast at the polls today.
One area where early voting numbers were particularly low was in Larimer county, where officials were "perplexed" by the lack of early votes submitted, but were also hesitant to read too much into the results.