By COLLEEN SLEVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DENVER — Campaigns were working to get as many voters as possible to the polls in Colorado's first legislative recalls on Tuesday, elections that tested popular support for gun limits in a state with a strong tradition embracing Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lined up on opposite sides of the recalls for Senate President John Morse in Colorado Springs and Democrat Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo.
Both legislators voted for 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and for expanded background checks on private gun sales after the 2012 mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn. The legislation passed Colorado's Democrat-led Legislature this year without any Republican support and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled about $3 million, dwarfing the amount raised by gun activists who petitioned for the recall, though some independent groups didn't have to report spending. Both the NRA and Bloomberg contributed more than $300,000 to the pro- and anti-recall campaigns.
Besides being the latest chapter in the national debate over gun rights, the recalls also exposed divisions between Colorado's growing urban and suburban areas and its rural towns. Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws and some activists are promoting a largely symbolic measure to secede from the state.
One of the Morse recall organizers, Timothy Knight, said supporters are upset that lawmakers limited debate on the gun legislation and seemed more inclined to take cues from the White House than their constituents.
"If the people had been listened to, these recalls wouldn't be happening," Knight said.
Unlike most recent elections, there are no automatic mail ballots, so voters need to cast their ballots in person.
"This is a good, old-fashioned knock and drag operation – knocking on doors and dragging them to the polls," said Colorado Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio, who was working in Giron's Pueblo County district on Tuesday.
Republican turnout was stronger in early voting in Morse's district in El Paso County but Democrats narrowed the GOP advantage though mid-afternoon on election day. In Giron's district, Democrats have been outpacing Republicans at the polls. Both districts also have a significant number of unaffiliated voters and guns are not strictly partisan issue in the state.
Hickenlooper initially rejected calls for stronger gun control laws after 12 people were killed and 70 injured in an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. The governor changed his mind right before the December 2012 Newtown massacre, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Hickenlooper kept a low profile in the recalls. A recent statewide poll by Quinnipiac University suggested that 52 percent of voters disapproved of Hickenlooper's gun policy while 35 percent approved.
A former police chief in suburban Colorado Springs, Morse said Colorado's gun laws were commonsense ideas to reduce fatalities in mass shootings. He was first elected to the Senate in 2006, defeating a Republican incumbent in a competitive district. His term expires in 2014, and he insists he wants no other political office.
Giron was first elected in 2010 in a heavily Democratic district. She oversaw the Senate committee that first approved the measure to require background checks on most private and online gun sales. Giron also voted for the new 15-round limits on most ammunition magazines.
Challenging Morse in Colorado Springs was former Republican Councilman Bernie Herpin. In Pueblo, former police officer George Rivera challenged Giron.