GOP noticing Colo prosecutor’s outsider Senate bid
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – It seemed certain who would carry the Republican campaign for a Colorado Senate seat when a well-connected former lieutenant governor, Jane Norton, joined the race. She’s got fundraising prowess, statewide experience, enough mettle to take the fight to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
So how did a little-known Republican prosecutor from northeast Colorado get conservatives so revved?
Ken Buck had all the makings of an also-ran candidate. He’s never been on ballots outside Weld County. Aside from an attempt to crack down on illegal immigrants by seizing their tax records, Buck wasn’t publicly known for much before starting his campaign. He doesn’t even have a personal Wikipedia entry.
Norton has raised more than $1.9 million and rubs elbows with GOP power brokers. Her brother-in-law, Charlie Black, helped run Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. Bennet, appointed to the seat last year, has cleared more than $6 million for his re-election campaign and drew a personal fundraising visit from President Barack Obama.
But Buck, a Princeton-educated prosecutor from Greeley, has spent the last year campaigning almost nonstop. Buck works tea party gatherings and shows up at county Republican meetings to shake hands and promote himself as the most conservative in the race. He’s selling ideological purity, not compromise, but he pairs his hard-right conservatism with an earnest smile and a folksiness that blunts the sharpness of his message.
It’s a pitch that has a growing number of Republicans thinking Buck can really win this thing.
On a recent campaign day, a typical dawn-to-midnight slog in which he put more than 300 miles on a rented Ford sedan, Buck talked to about a dozen Republicans during a stop at a breakfast restaurant. He arrived alone; Buck typically campaigns without aides, without a driver, without an advance team to paper his stops with campaign posters.
He launched into a sales pitch honed through thousands of deliveries. National Democrats are bankrupting this country, he said, and the only way the nation can survive is by electing a raft of conservatives this fall.
Buck wants to change the Constitution to require Congress to balance the national budget. He wants to dismantle federal support for the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak. He rails against the Department of Energy for what he calls meddling in local energy development, and wants a smaller Department of Education, which he says is “encroaching on local parents and educators.”
Buck blasts fellow Republicans, too. He blames Bush-era Republicans for juicing a bloated federal government.
“If John McCain had gotten elected, we’d be goin’ in the same direction we’re goin’ now, just a little slower,” Buck said. Every head in the small crowd nodded.
One listener asked Buck to boil down his pitch to a short message or two, something called an “elevator speech,” so short a candidate can give it during an elevator ride.
Buck didn’t even try.
“I hate sound bites,” he said. “I’m not that person. Give me an hour, I’ll talk about what my positions are. But I’m not a commercial, that’s not what this is about. This is the future of our country.” Then he smiled.
“That’s a pretty good elevator speech right there,” someone in the crowd muttered.
Buck recently nabbed the endorsement of Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who had been floating large amounts of cash to conservative Senate candidates nationwide. Buck benefited from a six-figure ad buy from Americans for Job Security, a deep-pocketed advocacy group that advertises for right-of-center candidates.
And after some slow-going fundraising, including a fiscal quarter in which he raised just $40,000 and another in which he loaned himself $100,000, Buck aides say the current quarter ending June 30 will make clear he’s getting some momentum. The campaign recently moved into a fancy Denver high-rise office building.
Not all Colorado Republicans are sold. Many fear that Buck’s too conservative to be elected statewide and that his background as a tough-on-immigrants prosecutor will turn off Latino voters in a state where more than a fifth of residents are Hispanic.
“I can actually beat Michael Bennet. There’s an electability factor,” Norton told about 30 Republicans at a McDonald’s in eastern Colorado last month. “I can reach out to Hispanics, to women, to young people.”
So far, Buck and Norton haven’t competed head to head. Until recently there was a crowded pack of Republican Senate candidates. Buck cruised to top billing at the state GOP assembly in May, but Norton didn’t participate, opting instead to petition onto the Aug. 10 primary ballot.
Back in Steamboat Springs, Buck was asked directly whether his upstart campaign would really work. He summed up why so many conservatives like him – and why so many political observers wonder how far he can go.
“I don’t know that I can win,” Buck said. “But I am what I am.”