Brewery heir Peter Coors won a bruising Republican primary for Colorado’s open Senate seat Tuesday, beating a conservative former congressman to set up a high-stakes showdown with the Democratic attorney general this fall.
In Georgia, first-term Rep. Denise Majette crushed a millionaire businessman to win a Democratic runoff for the seat being vacated by retiring Georgia Sen. Zell Miller. She became the first black candidate ever nominated to the U.S. Senate in Georgia.
With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Coors had 170,581 votes, or 61 percent, and former Rep. Bob Schaffer had 110,692 votes, or 39 percent. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Ken Salazar had 144,953 votes, or 73 percent, and educator Mike Miles had 52,362 votes, or 27 percent.
The winner in November will take the seat currently held by retiring GOP Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Democrats believe the race represents a golden opportunity to gain a seat in the Senate, which the Republicans control by a slim margin. National Democrats are hoping Salazar will attract Hispanics to the polls, possibly giving presidential candidate John Kerry a boost in November.
Political experts say the race could be among the most expensive in Colorado history, with the two major parties expected to spend some $6 million each.
The deep-pocketed Coors said he will need large sums of money for the general election. He said the Senate already has 57 lawyers and does not need another one.
“I’ve said all along the Senate needs more people with business experience,” he said.
Salazar, a veteran campaigner who toured the state with a cowboy hat and a populist message, said his victory proves he has statewide support.
“People recognize that I care about every single county, every single community, no matter how large or small. I look forward to a dynamic campaign with Pete Coors,” Salazar said.
Coors’ victory capped a bitter campaign in which conservatives loyal to Schaffer funded ads ridiculing Coors’ support of a lower drinking age. They also tried to link him to homosexual causes, an apparent reference to the fact that Coors Brewing Co. extended benefits to same-sex partners of its workers and promoted its beer in gay bars while Coors was an executive at the company.
Coors said he supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and he contends lowering the drinking age would teach responsibility at a younger age.
Majette vs. Isakson in Georgia
In Georgia, Majette will be a heavy underdog against GOP Rep. Johnny Isakson in a state that has trended Republican in recent years. Majette would make more history if she prevails in the fall: There have only been two black senators since Reconstruction.
Majette, 49, easily defeated the well-heeled Cliff Oxford, a 40-year-old technology company founder who was recruited to run by former President Carter. With all but six precincts reporting, Majette had 59 percent, or 160,858 votes, compared with Oxford’s 41 percent, or 109,529 votes.
“I’m just very honored that the people of Georgia are giving me the opportunity to run this next phase of the race. We’ve worked very hard. That hard work is paying off,” Majette said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Neither Senate candidate was on the Democratic Party’s “A” list last year when Miller, a Democrat who often votes with the Republicans, announced plans to retire. While the Republican field quickly formed, Democrats were scrambling for months as a several potential candidates considered the race only to decline.
Majette and Oxford were forced into the runoff after failing to get more than 50 percent of the vote in last month’s primary. Isakson won his primary outright.
Majette, 49, gained national attention two years ago when she ousted the fiery 10-year Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the state’s first black congresswoman. McKinney is now trying to win her old seat back.
Congressional races also were on the ballot Tuesday in Georgia, Colorado and Connecticut.
In Colorado, two Republicans were in a virtual dead heat in a five-way primary to succeed six-term GOP Rep. Scott McInnis. The winner will face state Rep. John Salazar, the attorney general’s brother, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 3rd District, a vast stretch of southern and western Colorado about the size of Florida.
In a runoff for the seat held by retiring Georgia Rep. Mac Collins, state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland defeated Dylan Glenn, a young, telegenic candidate who was bidding to become the first black Republican congressman since Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts retired in 2002.
In Connecticut, former Norwich city councilman Jim Sullivan won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, who has been targeted by national Democrats for defeat in November.
Democrats must gain 12 seats to win control of the House.
Also in Colorado, a proposal from a 15-year-old girl to bar circus animal acts within the city limits of Denver was soundly defeated.