DENVER -- Former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and tea party candidate Dan Maes were locked in an extremely close primary for Colorado's Republican gubernatorial nomination -- the razor-thin margin between them underscoring deep divisions within party ranks.

Maes and McInnis were locked at 50 percent each with 83 percent of the projected vote counted late Tuesday.

Maes, a suburban Denver businessman, credited support from the anti-establishment tea party for his strong showing.

"This is no time to play party politics with career politicians in the governor's office," Maes said at a campaign rally. "It's a time to bring in fresh executive talent."

McInnis banked on hopes that record turnout among Republicans and his name recognition would lead to victory.

Denver mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper faced no primary opposition. He spent primary day in southern Colorado.

The GOP race was mired in character issues, prompting former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo to bolt the party and mount his own campaign. GOP officials condemned Tancredo's move, saying it will only siphon votes to Hickenlooper come November.

McInnis' campaign foundered when it was revealed he lifted part of a judge's work for a series of essays on water rights for which he was paid $300,000.

Maes, an Evergreen businessman, had his own problems. He paid a $17,500 fine for campaign finance violations, including $44,000 he claimed in undocumented mileage reimbursements.

Maes, a virtual unknown until McInnis' scandal, also raised eyebrows by declaring that a Denver bike-share program encroaches on "personal freedoms," and that as governor he'd fire 2,000 state workers -- "just like that."

During the plagiarism scandal, McInnis rejected suggestions that he step down and allow a GOP vacancy committee to appoint a replacement if he won the primary and trailed Hickenlooper. He stuck with his campaign theme -- creating jobs -- though character issues overshadowed debate over platforms and what each candidate would do as Colorado's next governor.

It wasn't the first time McInnis faced ethics issues. In 2005, he was investigated -- and cleared -- by the Federal Elections Commission after Democrats complained his wife had been hired as a campaign manager in 2004 after McInnis decided not to seek re-election.

The Libertarian Party primary Tuesday featured Jaimes Brown, a real estate broker, and Internet entrepreneur Dan Sallis. Brown led Sallis 63-37 percent with 86 percent of the projected vote counted.