Hickenlooper, the popular mayor of Denver, was widely expected to coast to victory after Tancredo entered the race in July. Tancredo, the former Congressman famous for his vitriolic anti-immigration rhetoric, had demanded that both potential Republican nominees, Dan Maes and former Rep. Scott McInnis, drop out before the primary, as both had been marred by scandal, so that the party could pick a fresh nominee. But both Maes and McInnis refused, and Tancredo jumped in.
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After Maes won the primary, polls showed he and Tancredo splitting votes, with Hickenlooper well ahead. But Maes' campaign imploded, and Tancredo gained endorsements, fundraised well and effectively became the Republican in the race, closing the gap and making Democrats sweat out the final days.
Adding to the challenge was the fact that Hickenlooper had pledged to run a campaign without negative ads, a strategy that may have hurt his ability to fight back after Tancredo surged and started unleashing nasty attacks and ads (like one basically implicating Hickenlooper in the death of a child killed by an illegal immigrant driver). Still, Hickenlooper had a 52.4-40.7 favorable-unfavorable rating (compared to Tancredo at 47.6-43.7), a big fundraising edge, and even the the support of some Republicans, like Gary Maffei, the former chairman of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign in Colorado. With the Maes disaster and Tancredo's patented inflamed rhetoric on the campaign trail, Hickenlooper was the frontrunner in the background for much of the race. But tonight a quiet campaign made the loudest statement.