Bill Ritter Elected New Governor of Colorado, First Democrat in Eight Years

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After a bruising fight that included attack ads and an FBI probe, Democrat Bill Ritter beat Republican Bob Beauprez for Colorado's open governor's seat Tuesday, retaking the office for the first time in eight years.

With 10percent of the projected vote counted, Ritter led Beauprez 55 percent to 42 percent, or 283,169 votes to 214,642.

Ritter, 50, called the election an opportunity for Colorado to look to the 21st century with a vision that includes jobs centered around renewable energy and improved education.

"It's about asking the question, what do our kids and our grandkids deserve from us and how do we get there?" Ritter said as the two men wrapped up their campaigns.

Beauprez, 57, focused on his experience as a dairy farmer, banker and two-term congressman, saying fast-growing Colorado needs a governor with legislative experience to succeed GOP Gov. Bill Owens, who must step down after two terms.

"If you're going to get into a plane tomorrow morning, you're probably going to want an experienced pilot in the cockpit," Beauprez said.

Jennifer Martin, 23, who lives in Lakewood, said she voted for Ritter because she believes he will protect women's rights.

"Even though he is against abortion, he takes the stance saying that he would pour more funding into planning, like Planned Parenthood and stuff like that. Even if you're against abortion, that's fine, but at least he's willing to do something to make up for it and kind of maybe counteract the fact that he's against it. And he has said that he would never outlaw it or make any huge bans against it."

Michael Johnson, a 33-year-old unaffiliated voter from Arvada, said he voted for Beauprez in an effort to block Democrats from controlling both the legislative and executive branches of government. Results from Tuesday's legislative races were pending.

"I'm scared that Colorado will have a Democratic House and Senate and governor. I'm not real fond of Beauprez or Ritter," Johnson said.

The race was nasty at times, with the two men raised on Colorado farms slugging it out over immigration, economic plans and their experience. Ritter suggested Beauprez had done little to help his constituents in his suburban Denver district, while the congressman accused the Democrat of being soft on crime.

In fact, a campaign ad on that topic dominated the final days of the campaign. The ad suggested Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, was too quick to reach plea bargains with illegal immigrants. Ritter's campaign said the information in the ad came from a restricted federal database, while Beauprez said it was given to his campaign by a "heroic" informant willing to risk his job to tell the truth.

The FBI launched an investigation, the results of which were pending as voters headed to the polls.

It was the last thing Beauprez needed, since polls showed him trailing Ritter even before the ad flap. The Republican congressman was already saddled with trying to overcome his opposition to Referendum C, a measure approved last year by voters willing to giving up an estimated $5 billion in tax surplus refunds over the next five year to fix the state budget.

Ritter supported it, saying it was crucial for the state economy. Beauprez said it failed to fix the underlying constitutional issues — opposition that cost him support from core Republicans, including businessmen and Owens.

The two also clashed on health care and higher education. Many Democrats were uneasy with Ritter's anti-abortion stance, though the issue did not resonate on the campaign trail.