DENVER (CBS4) – John Hickenlooper declared victory over challenger Bob Beauprez on Wednesday morning, providing Colorado Democrats with one of their few bright spots this midterm.

“The voters of Colorado have spoken,” Hickenlooper said. “What I want to express first and foremost is gratitude. We are incredibly grateful that we have earned a second term as Colorado’s governor.”

With 94 percent of precincts reporting at 9 a.m., Hickenlooper led Beauprez 48 percent to 47 percent. Approximately 22,000 votes separated the two.

Hickenlooper spoke to supporters at 9:30 a.m. and thanked a long list of integral campaign workers.

“Thank you, Colorado. We owe it all to you,” Hickenlooper said.

Beauprez sent out a statement to the media and also posted it on his website about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday that he was conceding the race to Hickenlooper. He stated there just weren’t enough options to win the race, even with a handful of counties still counting ballots.

A portion of the statement reads: There are so many people who worked so hard, and words can’t express our gratitude. Especially those of you around the state who knocked on doors, made phone calls, chipped in to contribute, and gave us your time and talent believing with us that together we could build a Stronger Colorado.

Beauprez also stated his called Hickenlooper to congratulate him on a hard-fought race.

But the elation may be short-lived as Colorado’s political landscape changed overnight. The governor could greet a revamped state Legislature in which Republicans gained more House seats and could take control of the state Senate. Right now that hinges on ballot counting in Adams County. Hickenlooper said that given the wave of support state Republicans received in the election, it’s time for the parties to continue to compromise.

“Now is especially the time not to be complacent. Now is not the time to sit back and relax. But it is a moment and an opportunity to seize the bit and to move forward, not to dwell on the wedge issues that too often divide us,” he said.

Hickenlooper said he wanted to ensure that all Coloradans have the chance to tap into the state’s economic vitality. During the campaign, he often boasted that the state’s unemployment rate had dropped from more than 9 percent to less than 4 percent and that Colorado had moved from 40th to fourth in job creation  On Wednesday, he said that wasn’t enough and that the state should be No. 1.

But Hickenlooper said the state’s rosier economic outlook is still “a heck of a foundation to build on.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper cheers with supporters before declaring victory in the gubernatorial race on Nov. 5, 2014. (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper cheers with supporters before declaring victory in the gubernatorial race on Nov. 5, 2014. (credit: CBS)

It was a late night for the race. It was too close to call Tuesday evening, as Beauprez held a steady lead of roughly 20,000 votes until midnight. But late returns from Democratic-leaning counties, especially Boulder County, inched the governor ahead.

“I think I can now demonstrate that one, even with almost no sleep, can still feel great joy,” Hickenlooper said.

Beauprez hadn’t conceded before Hickenlooper addressed supporters.

During his acceptance speech, he thanked supporters and volunteers: “We are grateful to all of you who sacrificed your time and stood on a corner and waved signs, who worked the call banks and went out and knocked on doors.”

The contest wasn’t easy for Hickenlooper, who in the spring looked poised to capture re-election easily. He dominated Beauprez in polls by double digits until mid-August when his margin melted and the race became a toss-up.

The race grew bitter at points, especially during debates when Hickenlooper accused Beauprez of relentlessly running attack ads. But Hickenlooper stuck to his pledge that his campaign wouldn’t air negative TV spots, though groups supporting him did.

“I’m so proud that we were able to run a positive campaign about the positive people of Colorado,” he said. “But we could not have done it without the encouragement of the people all over Colorado.”

This was Beauprez’s second attempt at capturing the governor’s office. He represented Colorado’s 7th congressional district for two terms before losing the governor race to Bill Ritter in 2006. Hickenlooper became governor after serving as Denver’s mayor.

Hickenlooper survived two high-profile issues:

– After he signed two gun-control measures in 2013 that limited gun-magazine capacity and expanded background checks, he seemed to indicate to Colorado sheriffs this year that he regretted it.

– He granted a temporary reprieve from execution to mass murderer Nathan Dunlap and then later suggested he could give Dunlap a full pardon, should he lose the governor election.

Hickenlooper stuck by both decisions, but Beauprez jumped on the miscues. He said they illustrated that the governor lacked leadership on important issues. He also tried hammering Hickenlooper on the economy, saying it wasn’t as positive as some claimed and that rural communities in particular were still suffering.

A Republican hasn’t won the governor race since 2002 when Bill Owens was last elected.

If he had lost, Hickenlooper would have been the first Colorado governor to lose re-election since 1962.

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