By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Republican former congressman Bob Beauprez held off a challenge from an outside rival in Tuesday's Colorado primary ballot and will face Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper in November, who he says is a weak executive.
Beauprez, who lost when he was the nominee in 2006, is considered the establishment's choice to face the well-funded Hickenlooper. He fended off a bid by another ex-congressman, Tom Tancredo, who was seen as more of a maverick in GOP circles.
"Bob ran a disciplined primary campaign, and we're proud to have such a fine leader, family man, and small businessman as our nominee for governor," Colorado Republican Committee chair Ryan Call said in a message of congratulations.
With most of the votes counted, Beauprez - who comes from dairy farming stock in Boulder and made his money in banking - was well ahead with 30.71 percent of ballots cast, versus 26.38 percent for Tancredo.
Colorado's secretary of state Scott Gessler was in third place with 23.44 percent. Tancredo and Gessler both called Beauprez to concede, said a spokesman for Beauprez.
The fourth candidate in the four-horse race was former state lawmaker Mike Kopp.
The main issue all the Republican contenders agreed on was that Hickenlooper, a former beer magnate, showed a lack of leadership when he signed into law a package of gun-control bills passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature last year.
Hickenlooper recently apologized to the state's county sheriffs for approving one of the most controversial measures, a bill that limited ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
Many of Colorado's 64 sheriffs opposed the limit, saying it was unenforceable.
His opponents were quick to pounce on the apology.
"This is a governor without leadership or principle," Beauprez said in a statement. "He decides to restrict the rights of Coloradans and months later apologizes for not doing his homework."
The former congressman now faces an uphill battle against Hickenlooper, who has amassed a sizable war chest. His campaign said on Tuesday it has spent $1.4 million to buy TV ads to run in the fall.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis; Eric Beech and Michael Perry)