The Republican sweep of the Mountain region stopped short of the biggest prize. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who had been appointed to the seat, appears to have eked out a victory over Republican nominee Ken Buck.
The GOP recognized this race as one of its top targets for a Senate pickup and as a result spent millions of dollars trying to win the seat. Bennett and Buck spent a combined $13.7 million in campaign funds, and independent expenditures from the parties brought spending in the race to $41.2 million, not counting outside groups.
The campaign cash, which was used mainly on attack ads throughout the state, sought to cast Bennet as a free-spending liberal Democrat and Buck as an arch-conservative whose values didn’t align with Colorado’s divided electorate. Bennet voted in favor of the stimulus bill weeks after taking office, a decision that conservative groups such as American Crossroads pounced on during the campaign season. Meanwhile, Buck made comments supporting the privatization of Social Security and the abolition of the Department of Education, which the Bennet campaign emphasized in TV spots.
So the themes in the race were similar to those that echoed in races around the country. But even with the loss, the GOP won big in the Mountain region, taking 10 of the available House seats in clear victories. The Democrats took the remaining four seats in the region — three in Colorado and one in Utah.
In the region’s only other Senate races, Mike Crapo (R) swept to re-election with 71 percent of the vote in Idaho, and in Utah, Mike Lee, who defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett at the state’s Republican nominating convention, won his race by 30 points.
On the House side, the Mountain region had just three races that seemed close going into Election Day. In each of those districts, Republican candidates defeated Democratic incumbents, aiding in the GOP’s House takeover.
In Idaho’s 1st district, Raul Labrador, a state House Representative, defeated first-term Rep. Walt Minnick by 10 points, swinging the seat back to the GOP. Labrador’s decisive win was both surprising and emblematic of the strength of the GOP across the country. Minnick won the seat for Democrats in 2008 in a close race against Republican incumbent Bill Sali, and during his time in the House, Minnick was one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus, voting against the health care bill, the stimulus package and the cap-and-trade bill.
Labrador was seen by many as the weaker and slightly too-conservative candidate of two GOP contenders during the primary season. But not only did Labrador prevail and do so handily, he won the seat despite being heavily outspent.
Colorado’s 3rd district was also considered a tossup in a reprise of the 2006 race for the seat between Rep. John Salazar and Scott Tipton. Salazar crushed the Republican in 2006, winning the election by 25 percent. But the tables turned this year, with Tipton beating the Democratic lawmaker, who was trying for his fourth term, by 5 points.
Of the region’s competitive races, Colorado’s 4th district was won by the widest margin. Freshman Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey lost the seat to GOP candidate Cory Gardner by 13 points. The district is a mixture of liberal and conservative voters, thanks to cities such as Fort Collins and Greeley and vast expanses of rural areas spanning the eastern side of the state.