DENVER For Sen. Michael Bennet, Wednesday provided a picturesque end to an ugly campaign as he declared victory over Republican Ken Buck in the countrys tightest Senate race.
At a rally at Denvers City Park, Bennet celebrated with his wife, mother, three daughters and about 300 supporters, with the Denver skyline in the background and a crisp blue sky overhead.
The day stood in contrast to the last three months, when Bennet and Buck beat each other up in campaign commercials while outside groups poured in more than $32 million, mostly in negative ads.
Bennets victory gave national Democrats one of their only pieces of good news. They lost at least six seats in the U.S. Senate and more than 60 in the House.
Bennet said his election would confound national pundits.
When they get to Colorado, theyre not going to know what happened, Bennet said. Theyre going to scratch their heads and wonder what the heck is going on out here.
Bennets former boss, Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, said he did not know why Colorado voters picked him and Bennet while turning other Democrats out of office, but he pointed out they are both businessmen.
There is a certain desire for more of a pragmatism and common sense that you find in business to be in government, Hickenlooper said.
Buck, the Weld County district attorney, called Bennet to congratulate him Wednesday afternoon.
My Senate campaign has been the experience of a lifetime. I will be forever grateful to the thousands of Coloradans who helped make this grass-roots journey possible, Buck said in a statement posted on his website.
Bennet was a surprise pick by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the Senate seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
President Barack Obama named Salazar to the Cabinet and clearly expressed his preference for Bennet, endorsing him as soon as Andrew Romanoff entered the Democratic primary against Bennet. However, Obamas popularity has faded in Colorado, and Bennet was forced to campaign in spite of his friendship with the president, instead of benefitting from Obamas popularity.
Buck campaigned as one of half a dozen tea party-approved Senate candidates. Several of those candidates fizzled in Tuesdays races, with Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine ODonnell in Delaware losing. Joe Miller appeared to be losing in Alaska to fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski.
Bennet said Colorado voters rejected a message of anger.
This election and our campaign were never about sending a political message, Bennet said. This election was about my three little girls, and the 850,000 schoolchildren across Colorado who already believe that weve made them a promise that the ZIP code theyre born into is not going to define the quality of education theyre going to receive.
Mike Melanson, campaign manager for Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, said Bennet won by targeting his message to women. Exit polls showed 56 percent of women preferred Bennet to Buck, Melanson said in a conference call Wednesday.
Bennets ads aimed to win female voters by calling out Bucks stance on abortion; his former support for Amendment 62, which would have banned abortion and birth-control pills; and his refusal to prosecute a date-rape case in Greeley.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday afternoon, Bennet led Buck by 48 percent to 47 percent, or 799,072 votes to 783,426.
Green Party candidate Bob Kinsey had 2 percent of the vote, and three other candidates had 1 percent each.