(Adds Senator Giron concedes)
By Keith Coffman
DENVER, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Colorado voters ousted two Democratic lawmakers, including the State Senate President, in a historic recall vote on Tuesday over their support for tougher gun control laws, handing a major victory to gun rights supporters.
The recall races, the first in Colorado history, are at the epicenter 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, said 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," Morse told Reuters shortly after conceding. "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, Morse was trailing 48.67 percent to 51.33 percent with 86 percent of the vote counted, according to the El Paso County Clerk's office.
Also unseated was Democrat state Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo, who conceded defeat as 56.01 percent of voters backed her ouster compared with 43.99 percent who wanted her to stay in office, according to the Colorado Secretary of State's office. The data did not say what percentage of votes had been tallied.
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 U.S. shootings including a rampage in a suburban Denver movie theater last year in which 12 people were killed .
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 firearm access. Opponents viewed the recall effort as a bullying tactic and not the proper way to handle a policy dispute.
Morse's Republican opponent, former Colorado Springs Councilman Bernie Herpin, said it was 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," Herpin said before the voting ended.
'A CLEAR MESSAGE TO THE SENATE LEADER'
The recall battle drew more than $3.5 million in campaign contributions. But the vast majority of the funds - nearly $3 million - came from opponents of the recall drive who support stricter gun control, figures from the Colorado Secretary of State's office showed.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, wrote a $350,000 personal check to the anti-recall campaigns. Los Angeles billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad kicked in another $250,000 to stave off the recalls.
Only about $500,000 came from the pro-gun lobby, mainly $368,000 donated by the National Rifle Association, the nation's biggest pro-gun lobby, which feted Morse's ouster late on Tuesday.
"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," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement.
The campaign was not a friendly one. One television ad, paid for by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, accused Morse of taking marching orders from "East Coast liberals like billionaire playboy New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg."
Joshua Spivak, editor of the Recall Elections Blog, said the Colorado lawmakers were not the first in the nation to face recalls over gun control, and that a California lawmaker survived a recall over the same issue in 1994.
"The argument that the recall was supposed to be used only to oust corrupt officials is a long-running canard, one disproved by both history and the fact that there are actually seven states that limit the recall to corruption issues," Spivak said. (Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Richard Chang and Louise Heavens)