Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. (The Denver Post file)

Colorado Republicans, fired up that two Democratic state senators were kicked out of office after supporting stricter gun regulations, now have their sights set on a bigger target: Gov. John Hickenlooper.

And while the recall efforts against Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron were started and fueled more by grassroots activists than an official Republican drive, the Grand Old Party is happy to seize the momentum.

At least six Republicans are considering challenging Hickenlooper in 2014.

It's not just that the Democratic governor signed the gun bills into law. Republicans also believe they have attack opportunities in Hickenlooper's delay of the execution of a death-row inmate and the governor's support of a $950 million education tax hike in November.

"#HickHike" is the hashtag developed by the state branch of Americans for Prosperity.

The group ran radio ads and sent mailers into Morse's and Giron's districts, highlighting the lawmakers' support for the tax proposal and for increasing renewable-energy standards that rural Coloradans fear will increase their rates. Both issues were cited by voters as reasons they supported the recall.

"The national story is about guns, but the story in Colorado really is about power, and what the Democrats have learned from this blowback," pollster Floyd Ciruli said Wednesday. "People thought they weren't being listened to."

"I'm at peace with myself," Giron said Wednesday, despite losing by 12 percentage points in a Pueblo County district where 46 percent of the voters are in her own party.

The question now is whether recalls — never before used against a state lawmaker — will become part of Colorado's landscape.

"Once unsheathed, political weapons are rarely put back into storage," political consultant Eric Sondermann said.

Bernie Herpin
Bernie Herpin, left, celebrates his win with Jeff Hays of the El Paso County Republicans at party headquarters in Colorado Springs on Sept. 10, 2013. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Late Tuesday, Hickenlooper issued a statement saying he was "certainly disappointed by the outcome." In a news conference at the Capitol the next morning, he called the recalls of Morse and Giron a "line item veto."

"It's worth saying Colorado has maintained people's right to own a gun," Hickenlooper said. "We've maintained the full respect for the Second Amendment."

As both sides dissected the outcome Wednesday, they agreed a late-game judicial ruling that resulted in clerks having to toss mail-ballot voting and open polling places hurt Morse and Giron. Gun activists were more motivated to go to vote centers to mark their ballots.

Giron said she talked to one elderly supporter who told her, "I'm just not going to go and vote."

"No doubt, the voters spoke last night," said Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party about Tuesday's recall election. "But there should have been more people participating in this election."

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The Democrats' extensive and expensive ground game managed to close the early-voting gap in Morse's El Paso County district, where 51 percent of Senate District 11 voters supported the recall and 49 percent opposed it, a difference of 343 votes.

"This is not just not a win for Republicans but for the citizens and voters of these districts. They had their voices heard in response to lawmakers who were out of touch," Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said Wednesday.

Republican Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs City Council member, will take Morse's seat in the legislature, and Republican George Rivera,former Pueblo deputy police chief, will take Giron's seat. They were the only candidates on the recall ballots. The pair likely will take office in September or October after overseas and military ballots are counted and the election is officially certified.

Democrats will still be in charge of the Senate, but with only an 18-17 majority.

So far, two Republicans are running for governor: former Congressman Tom Tancredo and state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray. Secretary of State Scott Gessler is expected to announce Tuesday night. Three other Republicans are considering a run: Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp of Jefferson County.