DENVER — When Colorado passed a series of tough gun restrictions this winter, Democrats and gun-control advocates hailed it as a sign of changing attitudes in a Western swing state. But moments after a pivotal vote in the state Senate, a Republican lawmaker named Greg Brophy warned that Colorado's independent-leaning voters would rebel against the new laws.
"The backlash will be severe," he said.
On Tuesday, Democrats here got a troubling taste of that popular anger, as voters in a recall election ousted two state senators who had been strong supporters of the gun-control laws.
On Wednesday, gun advocates called the result a huge victory that they said would dampen other states' efforts to pursue gun restrictions.
Democrats now control the state legislature and the governor's mansion, and make up most of Colorado's congressional delegation. But state officials said that the recalls showed how Colorado's political pendulum could still swing in surprising directions.
"This is a state with a wide variety of interests at stake," said Bill Ritter, a Democrat and former governor. "The Democratic Party cannot be the party of metro Denver and Boulder. It has to be the party who understands the values, views and aspirations of people who lives outside of those areas."
As they fought for their political lives, the two senators facing recall, John Morse and Angela Giron, described themselves as common-sense Democrats who understood their state's values.
They said the new gun laws, which include background checks on private gun sales and limits on ammunition magazines, were moderate restrictions that made sense in a state scarred by gun massacres at Columbine High School in 1999 and a movie theater in Aurora in 2012.
But on Tuesday, many of their constituents seemed to reject their arguments. Morse lost his recall by 343 votes.
Giron represented a district where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 2-to-1. But on Tuesday, voters lined up against her, 56 percent to 44 percent. To many opponents of the recalls, the campaign felt like an attempt to bully legislators who had taken tough votes and represented a costly hijacking of the democratic process. The election in Giron's district could cost taxpayers $300,000, officials have said. A statewide poll in August by Quinnipiac University found that Coloradans overwhelmingly opposed the recalls.
Several political analysts said despite the vote's symbolism, its immediate impact on state policies would be limited.
"The sound and the fury, the noise and the money are far larger than the consequences," said John Straayer, a professor of political science at Colorado State University.