DENVER — A Colorado governor’s race that few originally expected to be close was too close to call Tuesday night.

Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez traded leads hours after the polls closed. Beauprez hoped to cap a Republican resurgence that saw Rep. Cory Gardner defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Mike Coffman hold onto his suburban Denver congressional seat.

Colorado voters hadn’t booted an incumbent governor since 1962. But Beauprez sought to do and become the first Republican to win the state’s top office since 2002.

“If you’d asked me six months ago if this would be this close, I would’ve laughed in your face,” said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University.

Many political observers wrote off Beauprez after his disastrous 2006 gubernatorial bid in which he lost by 17 points. But that year, Beauprez faced a Democratic wave with an unpopular Republican president in his sixth year.

This year, Hickenlooper found himself in the same unfavorable political circumstances.

Hickenlooper led recovery efforts during some of the state’s worst natural disasters, with historic wildfires and flooding in 2013 alone. He also has overseen an improving state economy that now has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, compared with 9.1 percent when he took office.

But that wasn’t enough to gain him separation from his opponent. In fact, he was responsible for making the race close with some controversial decisions, mainly his indefinite stay of Nathan Dunlap’s execution. Dunlap was convicted of killing four people in 1993 at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.

Hickenlooper signed a package of gun-control bills in 2013, then appeared flustered this year during a talk with sheriffs who opposed it. He told them he would have reassessed his support for the legislation had he known the furor it would cause.

“I think it’s been a battle …read more