DENVER (AP) – The Republican gubernatorial nomination in hand, Bob Beauprez’s strategy for attacking Gov. John Hickenlooper is emerging: He and the GOP are honing in on the Democratic incumbent’s recent decisions supporting new gun restrictions and showing lenience to a death row inmate.

Moments after winning Tuesday’s primary over three other candidates, Beauprez addressed supporters during his victory party and criticized Hickenlooper on those two topics, which have riled the Republican base.

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Hickenlooper signed an expansion of background checks for gun purchases and limits on the size of ammunition magazines in response to mass shootings from 2012. He also granted an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, convicted of murder in the deaths of four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.

Beauprez told supporters in his victory speech that he would order Dunlap’s execution and said during the campaign that he would work to repeal the gun restrictions.

While Hickenlooper was once considered a shoo-in for a second term, his actions during the last year have bolstered Republicans’ hopes that he can be beaten in November.

Still, the governor holds a huge fundraising advantage, with Beauprez looking to refill his depleted coffers after his largely self-funded primary.

Hickenlooper has raised nearly $3 million, of which he still has about $1 million available. His campaign has also purchased nearly $1.4 million in television advertising for the fall. Meanwhile, the latest fundraising report had Beauprez with $43,600 on hand.

Also working in the governor’s favor is a strong economy. Unemployment has decreased from 9 percent four years ago to 5.8 percent now.

“Hickenlooper presents a tough target,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “He’s got an attractive persona, an attractive style. There’s an element of humor, an aura of humor that somehow seems to attach to him.”

But Hickenlooper’s “aw, shucks style” has also gotten him into trouble. That was apparent in a recent talk to Colorado sheriffs, who filed a federal lawsuit over the gun laws. During the talk in Aspen, he appeared flustered and said he would have reassessed his support for the legislation had he known the furor it would cause.

He also told the sheriffs he never spoke about the bills with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a wealthy Republican who has financially supported gun control efforts. However, Hickenlooper’s office later acknowledged that he had talked with Bloomberg.

Hickenlooper told reporters Wednesday morning he could have explained better, but added, “I vigorously defend universal background checks, as vigorously as you can.”

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That law expanded background checks on gun purchases conducted online and between private sellers. On the bill limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, he said he was conflicted, but that he’d sign it again. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have ambivalent feelings about certain bills,” he said.

For his part, Beauprez, in an appearance on a Denver TV station Wednesday morning, said Hickenlooper’s agenda on the subject isn’t clear.

“Does he just react? Does he react to Mayor Bloomberg?” Beauprez asked.

Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to highlight Beauprez’s 2006 gubernatorial defeat, when he lost by 17 points to Democrat Bill Ritter. Also, Beauprez has occasionally made incendiary comments about the Obama administration, including an unsubstantiated 2013 accusation that it had been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Democrats are also likely to try to force Beauprez into taking “ultra conservative positions on abortion and gay and lesbian rights” to alienate him from independent voters, said Bob Loevy, a retired political science professor from Colorado College.

Beauprez is against abortion, but said in an interview last week with The Associated Press: “I very much respect people who have come to a different conclusion on a very difficult issue.”

Loevy said Democrats could be in for a tough race, noting that historical trends show that midterms during the sixth year of a presidency tend to favor the party that’s not in the White House.

When Beauprez lost, it was the sixth year of the George W. Bush’s presidency.

“Now, Beauprez is back, but the wave is going either way,” Loevy said.

Polls indicate Beauprez faces a challenge. In an April poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, Hickenlooper showed increasing favorability ratings and led Beauprez by 9 points.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

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