The recall races, the first in Colorado history, are at the epicentre of the national fight over gun control in the aftermath of a series of mass shootings last year, and were seen as a test of the sway of lobbyists on both sides of the debate.
State senate president John Morse, who helped lead efforts in the state legislature to ban ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds and to require background checks for private gun sales and transfers, said that he had “absolutely no regrets” about pushing the gun control measures.
“I said at the time if it costs me my political career, so be it,” Mr Morse said shortly after conceding on Tuesday night. “That’s nothing compared to what the families of [gun violence] victims go through every single day. We did the right thing.”
A Colorado Springs Democrat, Mr Morse lost by 343 votes, according to unofficial results from the Colorado secretary of state’s office.
Also unseated was Democrat state senator Angela Giron, of Pueblo, who conceded defeat as 56.01 per cent of voters backed her removal, compared with 43.99 per cent who wanted her to stay in office, according to the office.
The issue came to a head in Colorado after gun rights activists accused Democrats of ramming through the gun control legislation in the aftermath of a series of shootings which included the killing of 12 people in a Denver cinema last year.
Angered by the gun control push, gun rights advocates had sought the recall to send a message to current and future legislators that the bills had gone too far with efforts to curb firearms access.
Opponents viewed the recall effort as a bullying tactic and not the proper way to handle a policy dispute.
Mr Morse’s Republican opponent, former Colorado Springs councilman Bernie Herpin, said it was Mr Morse’s own unresponsiveness to constituents that prompted the recall effort, a process in which voters petition to remove an elected official before his or her term has ended.
“When you have 10,000 valid signatures on a recall petition, that’s a powerful message,” Mr Herpin said before the voting ended.
The recall battle drew more than $3.5 million in campaign contributions, but the vast
majority of the funds – nearly $3m – came from opponents of the recall drive who support stricter gun control.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote a $350,000 personal cheque to the anti-recall campaigns. Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad gave $250,000 to stave off the recalls.
After claiming victory late on Tuesday, Mr Herpin said the push to derail the recall had “backfired” on the gun control lobby. “In Colorado, we don’t need some New York billionaire telling us what size soft drinks we can have, how much salt to put on our food, or the size of the ammunition magazines on our guns,” he said.
Only about $500,000 came from the pro-gun lobby, mainly $368,000 donated by the National Rifle Association, which praised Mr Morse’s removal.
“The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable to them – his constituents – and not to the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun billionaires,” it said.