| PostIndependent.com

Final Garfield County election tally seals seventh term for Commissioner John Martin; Soto applauds ‘historic’ voter turnout

In what ended up being a record voter turnout year for Garfield County, unofficial final election results released Friday handed an equally historic seventh Garfield County Commission term to John Martin.

After the remaining ballots that were in play following the Nov. 3 general election were counted, the long-time Republican incumbent came away with 14,718 votes to 14,217 for runner-up Beatriz Soto, the Democratic challenger, and 1,315 for unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark.

The 501-vote difference between Martin and Soto was not quite as close as Martin’s respective 365- and 229-vote wins over Democrats Stephen Bershenyi in 2008 and Greg Jeung in 2004, according to Garfield County Election archives and Post Independent files.

The margins of separation were 1.17% versus Jeung, 1.65% versus Soto and 1.67% versus Bershenyi.

The unofficial final results for Garfield County also confirmed the win for fellow Republican County Commissioner Mike Samson, who had 15,394 votes, or 51.7%, to Democrat Leslie Robinson’s 14,401, or 48.3%.

Garfield County also had a record 85.4% turnout, with 31,245 out of 36,582 possible ballots cast. That was up from just over 84% turnout in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Martin, in an earlier interview, called the close outcome between he and Soto a “great awakening,” and said it’s time to “find common ground” and to work through some of the issues that are so polarizing, both locally and on a state and national scale.

“I never hold anything against anyone, and I do want to learn from folks for the benefit of all our people here in Garfield County,” he said. “Now that the politics are over, it’s time to take care of people.”

Soto congratulated Martin on winning another term, and encouraged future candidates for county commissioner and other local offices to “connect with all their constituents, including Latinos and younger voters.”

“We joined a tough race late in the game and still made history,” she said.

“We had historic voter turnout in Garfield County, from left-leaning and progressive voters as well as Latino voters,” Soto said. “While many of us wanted a different outcome, I want to encourage the people that did not vote for the incumbent to stay positive, engage and allow ourselves to celebrate our wins.”

The final tally for Garfield County voting also confirmed that Congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert of Rifle, though she won the overall Colorado 3rd Congressional District vote, lost in her own backyard to Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush.

Mitsch Bush had 15,531 votes in Garfield County to Boebert’s 13,756, for a 51% to 45% difference. A pair of third-party candidates picked up 3.8% of the county’s votes.

Boebert won the overall 3rd District race with 51.4% of the vote to Mitsch Bush’s 45.2%, Libertarian John Keil’s 2.4% and the Unity Party’s Critter Milton’s 1%.

Garfield County also followed the voting statewide and nationally in choosing Joe Biden over Donald Trump for President of the United States. Biden had 15,427 of the county’s votes (49.8%) to Trump’s 14,717 (47.5%).

The unofficial final results for the county are to be canvassed and certified as official this week.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Biden, Harris win White House, vowing new direction for divided US

WASHINGTON — Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, positioning himself to lead a nation gripped by historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil.

His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed the processing of some ballots. Biden crossed 270 Electoral College votes with a win in Pennsylvania.

Biden, 77, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. The strategy proved effective, resulting in pivotal victories in Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Pennsylvania, onetime Democratic bastions that had flipped to Trump in 2016.

Biden was on track to win the national popular vote by more than 4 million, a margin that could grow as ballots continue to be counted.

Trump seized on delays in processing the vote in some states to falsely allege voter fraud and argue that his rival was trying to seize power — an extraordinary charge by a sitting president trying to sow doubt about a bedrock democratic process.

As the vote count played out, Biden tried to ease tensions and project an image of presidential leadership, hitting notes of unity that were seemingly aimed at cooling the temperature of a heated, divided nation.

“We have to remember the purpose of our politics isn’t total unrelenting, unending warfare,” Biden said Friday night in Delaware. “No, the purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everybody a fair shot.”

Kamala Harris also made history as the first Black woman to become vice president, an achievement that comes as the U.S. faces a reckoning on racial justice. The California senator, who is also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government, four years after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

Trump is the first incumbent president to lose reelection since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992. It was unclear whether Trump would publicly concede.

Americans showed deep interest in the presidential race. A record 103 million voted early this year, opting to avoid waiting in long lines at polling locations during a pandemic. With counting continuing in some states, Biden had already received more than 74 million votes, more than any presidential candidate before him.

More than 236,000 Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 10 million have been infected and millions of jobs have been lost. The final days of the campaign played out against the backdrop of a surge in confirmed cases in nearly every state, including battlegrounds such as Wisconsin that swung to Biden.

The pandemic will soon be Biden’s to tame, and he campaigned pledging a big government response, akin to what Franklin D. Roosevelt oversaw with the New Deal during the Depression of the 1930s. But Senate Republicans fought back several Democratic challengers and looked to retain a fragile majority that could serve as a check on such Biden ambition.

The 2020 campaign was a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has shuttered schools across the nation, disrupted businesses and raised questions about the feasibility of family gatherings heading into the holidays.

The fast spread of the coronavirus transformed political rallies from standard campaign fare to gatherings that were potential public health emergencies. It also contributed to an unprecedented shift to voting early and by mail and prompted Biden to dramatically scale back his travel and events to comply with restrictions. Trump defied calls for caution and ultimately contracted the disease himself. He was saddled throughout the year by negative assessments from the public of his handling of the pandemic.

Biden also drew a sharp contrast to Trump through a summer of unrest over the police killings of Black Americans including Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Their deaths sparked the largest racial protest movement since the civil rights era. Biden responded by acknowledging the racism that pervades American life, while Trump emphasized his support of police and pivoted to a “law and order” message that resonated with his largely white base.

The president’s most ardent backers never wavered and may remain loyal to him and his supporters in Congress after Trump has departed the White House.

The third president to be impeached, though acquitted in the Senate, Trump will leave office having left an indelible imprint in a tenure defined by the shattering of White House norms and a day-to-day whirlwind of turnover, partisan divide and the ever-present threat via his Twitter account.

Biden, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and raised in Delaware, was one of the youngest candidates ever elected to the Senate. Before he took office, his wife and daughter were killed, and his two sons badly injured in a 1972 car crash.

Commuting every night on a train from Washington back to Wilmington, Biden fashioned an everyman political persona to go along with powerful Senate positions, including chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Some aspects of his record drew critical scrutiny from fellow Democrats, including his support for the 1994 crime bill, his vote for the 2003 Iraq War and his management of the Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings.

Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign was done in by plagiarism allegations, and his next bid in 2008 ended quietly. But later that year, he was tapped to be Barack Obama’s running mate and he became an influential vice president, steering the administration’s outreach to both Capitol Hill and Iraq.

While his reputation was burnished by his time in office and his deep friendship with Obama, Biden stood aside for Clinton and opted not to run in 2016 after his adult son Beau died of brain cancer the year before.

Trump’s tenure pushed Biden to make one more run as he declared that “the very soul of the nation is at stake.”

___

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Hanlon concedes Senate District 8 race after margin moves to Rankin’s favor

The close race for Colorado Senate District 8 is decided, and incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Rankin has won formal election to the seat that he was appointed to fill last year.

His challenger, Democrat Karl Hanlon, called Rankin Thursday morning to formally concede and offer congratulations.

“I got into this race to bring a new voice to rural Colorado and fight for working families on issues that matter to them,” Hanlon said in a message posted to his campaign Facebook page. “I’m really proud of the work my team has done to get us this far and all the supporters throughout the district who believed in a vision of change.

This morning I called Senator Rankin to formally concede and congratulate him on his victory.I got into this race to…

Posted by Hanlon for Colorado on Thursday, November 5, 2020

“While I wish the outcome had been different, I remained heartened by the tens of thousands of voters in Senate District 8 who made their voices heard,” Hanlon concluded.

With ballots still being counted Wednesday and early Thursday in the seven counties that make up SD 8, Rankin’s lead grew past the margin that would have triggered an automatic recount.

Vote tallies reported by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, as of just before 9:30 a.m. Thursday, gave Rankin 50.59% of the vote to Hanlon’s 49.41%, with 986 votes separating the two.

As of the Thursday morning report, Rankin had a total of 42,128 votes to Hanlon’s 41,142.

“I’m very humbled after going through this campaign, and know you should never take for granted the opportunity to serve,” Rankin said Thursday of earning the voters’ nod to keep the senate seat.

“My main issues really had to do with the state of the economy because of the COVID impact, which is not good,” said Rankin, who serves as the senior member on the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. “There is a responsibility with that to help lead the discussion.”

Starting next week, the JBC will be having full-day meetings to start working on the budget and related bills. Rankin also applauded voter approval of Amendment B, repealing the Gallagher Amendment, which he said will go a long way to help with state education funding and help special districts maintain their tax bases.

That’s especially important for fire districts and the special Colorado Mountain College District, which stood to be severely impacted in coming years under Gallagher’s restrictions on maintaining residential property tax rates in Colorado.

Rankin said he also plans to introduce a new bill, titled Wildfire Mitigation, Detection and Suppression, which would dovetail with Gov. Jared Polis’s initiatives to better address wildfire protection in the state after a record wildfire season.

Recount averted

In close races, state law requires an automatic recount if the margin is within 0.5%. The margin between Rankin and Hanlon stands at 1.18% after the latest vote totals.

Senate District 8 includes Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit counties.

“We knew it was going to be close, especially with 40% unaffiliated voters now in the district,” Rankin said late Wednesday afternoon. “We knew we had to get some of those votes to win.”

Rankin congratulated Hanlon on a “hard-fought campaign,” but decried some of the outside negative advertising directed at him.

“Karl and I had a civil campaign, but there were a lot of negative mailers, and that could have made a difference,” Rankin said of the close election.

Hanlon had taken the early lead Tuesday night based on returns from the mountain resort areas, but the race narrowed as returns came in from the more-conservative western parts of the district.

“This is a district that is really focused on the issues, and is trying to find a way to the candidate who can represent them on the issues that are really important to people,” Hanlon said on election night.

“I had always said when we talked about this race during the campaign that it would come down to a couple hundred votes,” Hanlon added in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.

Returns had Hanlon, from Carbondale, winning in Routt and Summit counties, while Rankin had the edge in Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Grand and Jackson counties.

Rankin, also from Carbondale, formerly served nine years in the state House of Representatives. He sought election to the SD 8 seat he was appointed to in January 2019, replacing disgraced former Sen. Randy Baumgardner who retired after sexual harassment allegations and a subsequent investigation.

Rankin defeated Debra Irvine of Breckenridge in the June Republican primary. He serves as the senior member of the Joint Budget Committee.

His wife, Joyce Rankin, won reelection Tuesday to the state Board of Education from Colorado’s Third District over Democrat Mayling Simpson of Steamboat Springs.

Hanlon is a municipal and special district government and water attorney, who currently serves as the contract city attorney for Glenwood Springs.

He and his wife, Sheryl Barto, run the Smiling Goat Ranch, which provides equine therapy services for autistic children and veterans with PTSD.

Hanlon ran for the 3rd Congressional District seat in 2018, losing in the primary to Diane Mitsch Bush. He won this year’s primary for the state senate seat over Democrat Arn Menconi of Eagle.

jstroud@postindendent.com

Martin apparent winner for seventh term on Garfield County Board of Commissioners; Soto not yet conceding

Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin appears to have won reelection to a seventh term after a hard-fought and heavily funded challenge for the District 2 seat by Democrat Beatriz Soto.

However, Soto said late Wednesday that she is not conceding the race just yet with potentially more than 500 votes outstanding.

A fourth and final day-after-election update from the Garfield County Clerk’s Office gave Martin 14,424 votes, or 48.7%, to Soto’s 13,907 votes, or 47%.

Brian Bark, who ran as an unaffiliated candidate for the seat, claimed 1,279 votes, or 4.3%, according to the Wednesday afternoon tally.

Garfield Clerk Jean Alberico said 535 ballots could still be counted for the election, including ones held out of the count for various reasons such as signature and other discrepancies. Those ballots can still be cured by voters up until Nov. 12, and are to be tabulated on Nov. 13, she said.

“We want to respect those voters, especially because the race is so close,” Soto said. “It’s just fair, out of respect to each voter and to hear all voices and what they want for the future of their community.”

“Five-hundred and seventeen is better than three-hundred and seventy-seven,” Martin said Wednesday afternoon of the difference in the number of votes between he and Soto late election night compared to the new total.

Should the apparent outcome hold up, “I just want to thank the voters for a new four-year term, and to say that I will do my very best,” Martin said. “And a big thanks to Jean and her group. They’ve been under tremendous pressure, and are working through a lot of challenges.”

Martin touted his “one-man committee and word-of-mouth” campaign, as well as modest funding — $9,581 compared to Soto’s $73,417, as of the Oct. 30 financial reports filed with the state.

“The people won because the outside money didn’t win,” Martin said. “It was the people who voted.”

That aside, Martin said he’s willing to sit down with Soto and any of her base of voters to discuss the issues.

“I never hold anything against anyone, and do want to learn from folks and use some of that for the benefit of our people here in Garfield County,” he said. “Now that the politics are over, it’s time to take care of people.”

Martin took the lead in the race late Tuesday after Soto had led most of the night based on early returns.

Soto said she is optimistic about the future of Garfield County with the coalition she was able to build.

“I want to thank the almost 14,000 voters who supported my campaign, which I believe represents a new movement in Garfield County,” she said. “People are coming together to create a change that is going to run deep. I’m optimistic for our future and know that we’ll continue to grow in the right direction.”

Soto said late Tuesday as the race narrowed, “Regardless of the election result, we will continue to fight for local racial and social justice, and to add voices to protect our environment and public lands.

“I’m incredibly thankful to all our staff and volunteers,” she added. “We all worked side by side to help build a local grassroots movement.”

County commissioners are elected county-wide, but must reside within a representative district in the sprawling county that stretches from Carbondale on the east to the Utah state line on the west. The other race this election saw incumbent Republican Mike Samson win reelection over Democrat Leslie Robinson for the District 3 seat.

Martin has served as chairman of the board for many years since fellow Republicans Samson and Tom Jankovsky joined the board in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

Martin said the 82% voter turnout in Garfield County is indication that people are engaged now more than ever.

“It’s a wonderful day for our voting public,” he said late Tuesday, noting several of his past reelection bids have been close, as well.

“People are motivated and involved, and with all of the division in our country everything is extremely polarized,” Martin said. “We will work through this, and find common ground. It is a great awakening.”

Soto, from Glenwood Springs, came to the Roaring Fork Valley with her Mexican immigrant family as a teenager and recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Soto entered the race in July, replacing former Carbondale Trustee Katrina Byars as the Democrats’ candidate for the District 2 seat, after Byars decided to bow out.

Soto based her campaign on a call for broader representation in Garfield County on a wide range of issues, including the economy, social justice and the environment.

She is a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Latino Network, an initiative of Voces Unidas de las Montañas which formed last spring in an effort to give stronger voice to the Roaring Fork Valley’s Latino population.

Soto works as an architect, and graduated from Basalt High School in 1999. She immigrated to the United States with her family from Mexico as a teenager. She is now married with two sons.

Bark, from New Castle, petitioned his way onto the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate in June for the District 2 seat, saying Garfield County residents deserve non-partisan representation on their county board.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Joyce Rankin wins state Board of Education race

Incumbent Joyce Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, has won her bid for reelection over challenger Mayling Simpson, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, in the 3rd Congressional District race for the Colorado State Board of Education.

Rankin had captured 54.6% of the vote, while Simpson earned 45.3% in the latest tallies reported to the Colorado Secretary of State Wednesday morning.

Rankin had the edge in her home county of Garfield, 52.6% (14,755 votes) to 47.4% (13,280) for Simpson.

Simpson offered a concession statement Tuesday night.

“It was an honor and a privilege to run for the state board of education for CD3,” she said. “It was a team effort, and we did really well.”

At the Routt County Democrats virtual watch party, Simpson expressed gratitude for everyone who supported her.

“To say it was heartwarming is an understatement,” Simpson said. “It made my heart swell to see how supportive people were. I’m delighted with how well I did.”

Rankin said Tuesday night that she would wait until the results were further along to comment, and that she was more focused on her husband’s much closer race in state Senate District 8.

Rankin’s husband, Bob Rankin, is running for reelection for the Colorado State Senate in District 8 and currently has a slight lead over his Democrat opponent Karl Hanlon.

Joyce Rankin also commended Simpson for her hard work and for a civil campaign.

The 3rd Congressional District is located in the western and southern region of the state, and includes Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Jackson, La Plata, Lake, Mesa, Mineral, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Pueblo, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande, Routt, Saguache, San Juan, and San Miguel counties. It also includes a portion of Eagle County.

Rankin, 73, has held the seat since being appointed in August 2015 and is seeking a second term. Board members serve six-year terms.

Rankin taught elementary and middle school and served as an elementary principal. She has a master’s degree in elementary education with an administrative credential.

Simpson, 74, was elected to the Steamboat Springs Board of Education in 2017. She retired in 2019 when her husband accepted a position at the Virginia Military Institute.

Simpson has a doctorate in anthropology and also worked as a teacher at the high school and college level.

She spent most of her 40-year career abroad, living in eight different countries and working in public health and humanitarian assistance.

Simpson served as an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and was senior environmental health advisor at the World Health Organization.

Her priority as a candidate for the state board was to be a voice for rural districts, as well as improving funding for schools and teacher salaries, raising graduation rates and expanding vocational training. She was also focused on ensuring the voices of teachers were heard at the state level.

Rankin’s priorities have focused on reading and improving reading instruction, specifically work being done through the READ — Reading to Ensure Academic Development — Act.

The READ Act requires benchmark testing of students in preschool through third grade to assess literacy skills, focused on the goal that all students will be reading by third grade.

Rankin also spoke about the opportunity the pandemic brought in terms of improving online education.

While a school district’s decisions are primarily made at a local level, the state board has been providing support for schools during the pandemic.

The board also holds schools accountable for poor performance and handles other administrative functions, including appointing the commissioner of education.

One of the primary divisions between the two candidates was in allowing taxpayer dollars to fund private schools through a voucher system. Simpson took a strong position against pulling away any funding from public schools to give to private schools.

Rankin supports the voucher system and allowing private education companies to step in to manage school districts that are failing.

These results are preliminary and not official.

This story will be updated.

UPDATE: Mike Samson solidifies win over Leslie Robinson in Garfield County Commission race

With the fourth unofficial election results now in, District 3 Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson has solidified his win against Democratic challenger Leslie Robinson.

Samson’s 14,478 votes over Robinson’s 13,656 hoisted the Republican candidate to an unsurpassable 2.92% lead.

With the win, Samson will serve his fourth term on the county commission.

“I feel really good about the issues that I brought up,” Robinson told the Post Independent just before noon Wednesday. “I very much enjoyed working with Beatriz (Soto) as my campaign partner and we’re both community activists, so we’re not going to be going anywhere.”

Looking back at her campaign trail, Robinson said she was shocked to see how much racism there still is in western Garfield County.

“We got feedback from business owners that their children in the high school are ridiculed and bullied,” she said. There’s a problem with the school system with a racial imbalance… It has something to do with students amplifying their parents’ beliefs.”

Despite the impending loss, Robinson said she’ll continue to fight for Garfield County residents.

After several attempts, the Citizen Telegram was unable to reach Samson for comment.

rerku@citizentelegram.com

Congressional District 3: Lauren Boebert secures win over Diane Mitsch Bush

Republican Lauren Boebert beat Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in the race to represent Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in Congress.

Statewide, initial polls show Boebert up 51% to 45.7% over Mitsch Bush. An estimated 88% of votes had been reported as of 12:25 a.m. Wednesday.

In Pitkin County, preliminary results show Mitsch Bush securing more votes, 8,614 to Boebert’s 2,790 votes, according to tallies from the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s office at 12:09 a.m.

In a statement released at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, Boebert’s said: “It is an incredible honor and privilege to win this election and have the opportunity to be the first mom to serve Colorado’s Third Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. I am so thankful to everyone who supported my campaign for freedom and prosperity.”

The Congressional race is indicative of national campaign trends, pitting a Democrat with years of legislative experience under her belt and a history of bipartisan voting against a political newcomer who has based her campaign on a promise to “drain the swamp.”

Mitsch Bush, a former state legislator and Routt County commissioner, has outraised and outspent her competitor but kept her campaign events virtual during COVID-19 pandemic, citing health concerns. She vied for the same seat in 2018 but lost to five-term incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton.

“The voters have spoken. I did not get enough votes to win,” Mitsch Bush said in state released at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday.

Boebert, a business owner with no prior political experience, has cast herself as a Donald Trump acolyte. She wears one of the president’s hats at nearly every campaign event she hosts. Like the staff of her Rifle restaurant, Shooters Grill, Boebert often carries a firearm on her hip and is a vocal champion of gun rights. She surprised establishment politicians by beating Tipton in the primaries. 

Adding to her reputation as a nontraditional candidate, Boebert has faced questions and news headlines over her arrest record, controversial comments on the QAnon conspiracy theory and inquiries over unpaid taxes on her business.

The 3rd Congressional District is a sprawling, red-leaning district that has been in Republican control for more than a decade. It spans from Routt County in the north down to Durango near the southern corner of the state and across the eastern plains to the city of Pueblo. It spans almost half of Colorado’s landmass and 29 of its 64 counties. 

Democrats pick up Senate seat in Colorado as Hickenlooper defeats Gardner, control at stake

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans suffered a setback in the battle for Senate control Tuesday as Democrats picked up a seat in Colorado, but other races were still too early to call across an expansive political map.

GOP Sen. Cory Gardner was defeated by Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former governor, as the state shifted leftward during the Trump era. 

Republicans sought to retain their majority against a surge of Democrats challenging President Donald Trump’s allies. Both parties saw paths to victory, and the outcome might not be known on election night.

Polls closed in key states where some of the nation’s most well-known senators were on the ballot. In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fended off Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot in a costly campaign, but he acknowledged his GOP colleagues face tougher races.

From New England to the Deep South and the Midwest to the Mountain West, Republicans are defending seats in states once considered long shots for Democrats. The Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, its economic fallout and the nation’s uneasy mood all seemed to be on the ballot. 

Trump loomed large over the Senate races as did Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. They swooped into key states, including Iowa, Georgia and Michigan, in the final days of the campaigns. Voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate. 

Securing the Senate majority will be vital for the winner of the presidency. Senators confirm administration nominees, including the Cabinet, and can propel or stall the White House agenda. With Republicans now controlling the chamber, 53-47, three or four seats will determine party control, depending on who wins the presidency because the vice president can break a tie.

Democrats put Republicans on defense deep into Trump country.

As polls closed in South Carolina, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham was in the fight of his political life against Democrat Jamie Harrison, whose campaign stunned Washington by drawing more than $100 million in small-scale donations. 

Polls also closed in Georgia, where two Senate seats were being contested. They could easily be pushed to a Jan. 5 runoff if no candidate reaches the 50% threshold to win.

The Senate will welcome some newcomers as others retire. In Tennessee, Republican Bill Hagerty won the seat held by Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is retiring. Republican Cynthia Lummis, the former congresswoman from Wyoming, won the Senate seat opened by retiring GOP Sen. Mike Enzi. 

So far, incumbent senators in less competitive races easily won. 

Several Democrats were reelected, including No. 2 leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, Mark Warner in Virginia and Ed Markey, who survived a primary challenge in Massachusetts. Chris Coons kept the Delaware seat once held by Biden, defeating a Republican who previously promoted the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory. 

Among Republicans, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Ben Sasse in Nebraska, Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia and James Inhofe in Oklahoma won. 

Stuck in Washington to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett a week before Election Day, senators quickly fanned out — some alongside the president — for last-ditch tours, often socially distanced in the pandemic, to shore up votes.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis joined Trump’s rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Monday. Tillis has struggled against Cunningham, despite the married challenger’s sexting scandal with a public relations strategist. Cunningham traveled around the state Tuesday, talking to voters in Efland, near Durham. 

Democrats have more than one route to secure the three or four seats needed to capture the majority, and GOP strategists privately acknowledged that the incumbents will almost certainly suffer defeats in some races.

Younger voters and more minorities are pushing some states toward Democrats. 

Arizona could see two Democratic senators for the first time since last century if former astronaut Mark Kelly maintains his advantage over GOP Sen. Martha McSally for the seat once held by the late Republican John McCain.

Even the open seat in Kansas, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932, was being contested as the most costly in state history.

The biggest risks to Democrats were in Alabama and Michigan.

Republicans were expecting to reclaim the seat in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones pulled off a rare 2017 special election win in the Trump stronghold. Now, however, he was in an uphill campaign against Republican Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn football coach.

In the presidential battleground of Michigan, Republicans have made an aggressive push for John James, a Black Republican businessman, against Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.

“It’s my honor to stand before you today, Michigan,” James said at a final rally late Monday on stage with the president. “It’s time for a change.”

As voters were still at the polls, Peters stayed on message Tuesday tweeting, “Today, health care is on the ballot.”

In Georgia, GOP Sen. David Perdue, the former business executive Trump calls his favorite senator, tried to stave off Democrat Jon Ossoff, another candidate who has benefited from the “green wave” of campaign donations.

Separately, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler faced Republican Rep. Doug Collins, as well as Democrat Raphael Warnock, in a special election for the seat she was appointed to fill after the retirement of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson.

The Maine race between GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon was another contest that could push past Election Day if no candidate breaks the 50% threshold. Collins has typically rallied support as a centrist with an independent streak, but the tight contest shows the difficulty GOP senators have appealing to Trump’s most ardent backers while also retaining support from more moderate voters.

The political landscape is quickly changing from six years ago, when most of these senators last faced voters. It’s a reminder of how sharply the political climate has shifted in the Trump era.

In Montana, Republican Sen. Steve Daines was trying to hold off Democrat Steve Bullock, the governor, in a state where Trump was popular.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was fighting for a second term against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Texas Sen. John Cornyn faced an upstart Democrat, MJ Hegar, in the once solidly Republican state.

And in Alaska, newcomer Al Gross, a doctor, broke state fundraising records in part with viral campaign ads as he took on GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan.

Perry Will wins Colorado House District 57 seat against Democratic challenger Colin Wilhelm

Colorado House District 57 representative Perry Will was reelected this week by double-digits over Democratic challenger Colin Wilhelm.

Will cemented his win with 11.66% of the vote. He will now serve his first full term in the legislature, after being appointed to the seat in 2019.

Wilhelm told the Post Independent that he was proud of this year’s campaign for bringing awareness to mental healthcare.

“I think we ran a very good campaign,” he said. “We left everything out on the field.”

So far during his short time as a representative of Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, Will has focused his attention primarily on reducing health care costs for Western Slope residents. For example, over the past year he supported legislation that would make it easier for people to enroll in insurance. In addition, he’s also supported a bill that would cover collateral cancer screenings at a younger age.

Still in the infancy of his political career, Will served as a for the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife for 43 years before his congressional appointment in 2019. The New Castle Republican was appointed following Bob Rankin’s selection to fill the Senate District 8 seat in 2019.

More recently, Will has been a strong proponent of localizing government in the fight against COVID-19. 

Will was unavailable for comment.

rerku@postindependent.com

Trump or Biden? Big turnout, few hiccups as voters choose

WASHINGTON — Voters were deciding between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden on Tuesday, closing an epic campaign marked by rancor and fear that will influence how the U.S. confronts everything from the pandemic to race relations for years to come.

The first set of polls closed, beginning to draw to an end a campaign that was reshaped by the coronavirus and marked by contentiousness. Each candidate declared the other fundamentally unfit to lead a nation grappling with COVID-19 and foundational questions of economic fairness and racial justice.

The night began with predictable victories for each candidate, Trump taking Kentucky and Biden winning Vermont.

Millions of voters put aside worries about the virus — and some long lines — to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Spirits were high — and positive — in many polling places after a long, exceptionally divisive campaign.

“The most important issue is for us to set aside our personal differences that we have with each other,” said Eboni Price, 29, who rode her horse Moon to her polling place in a northwest Houston neighborhood.

Biden entered Election Day with multiple paths to victory, while Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower but still feasible road to clinch 270 Electoral College votes. Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.

With the worst public health crisis in a century still fiercely present, the pandemic — and Trump’s handling of it — was the inescapable focus for 2020.

The president began his day on an upbeat note, predicting that he’d do even better than in 2016. But during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, he spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.

“Winning is easy,” Trump told reporters. “Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”

Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation Tuesday night, even if a winner hadn’t been determined. Biden had scheduled a nighttime speech from his Delaware hometown but, hours before slated to deliver it, he turned noncommittal, saying, “If there’s something to talk about tonight, I’ll talk about it. If not, I’ll wait till the votes are counted the next day.”

“I’m superstitious about predicting what an outcome’s gonna be until it happens … but I’m hopeful,” said Biden, who earlier had made a last-minute pitch in the critical state of Pennsylvania. “It’s just so uncertain … you can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states were up for grabs.”

With the coronavirus now surging anew, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Trump and Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.

Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation’s most important issue, with the economy following close behind. Fewer named health care, racism, law enforcement, immigration or climate change

The survey found that Trump’s leadership loomed large in voters’ decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Trump — either for him or against him.

The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.

No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election: Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.

The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday of any malicious activity.

The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it would be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Trump, who had repeatedly refused to guarantee he would honor the election’s result. The hard-fought campaign left voters on both sides eager to move on, although the result might not be known for days.

“I believe there’s a lot of division and separation,” said Kelvin Hardnett, who was among more than two dozen voters who lined up more than an hour before the polling site at the Cobb County Civic Center outside Atlanta opened on Tuesday. “And I believe that once we get past the names and the titles and the personal agendas, then you know, we can focus on some real issues.”

___

Jaffe reported from Pittsburgh. Miller reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Deb Riechmann and Will Weissert in Washington, Bill Barrow and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta, Jeff Martin in Cobb County, Georgia, Juan Lozano in Houston, Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, and Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.