Is Colorado's Ken Buck the next Sharron Angle?
Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck's (R) recent wave of momentum has positioned him as the next grassroots outsider who could potentially win in a Republican primary -- following in the footsteps of Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle (R) and Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul (R).
Buck, who has served as Weld County District Attorney since 2004, began the race as a virtual unknown and, once national Republicans convinced former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton to run, he was expected to disappear into the political ether.
Buck's grassroots support led Norton to reconsider her plan to participate in the state Assembly -- knowing that she would run a distant second to him. And Buck's campaign is starting to get noticed by state and national conservatives.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) endorsed Buck while the Virginia-based group Americans for Job Security has spent $300,000 worth of TV ads on Buck's behalf.
In recent weeks, two former competitors in the GOP primary, Tom Wiens and Steve Barton, have come out in support of Buck.
Buck, in emphasizing the grassroots nature of his campaign, has struck a similar theme to Paul, Angle and other GOP candidates who have come from behind in recent primaries.
"Some are Ron Paul libertarians," Buck said of his backers in a recent interview. "There's a lot of different categories but they are all much more energized to the point that they are starting to take over the Republican Party. I call them the grass-roots, and that's really where our appeal has been in a bottom-up campaign style."
Unlike Angle and Paul, however, Buck's views on most issues fall within the GOP mainstream. He is in favor of repealing the federal health care overhaul, supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, opposes cap-and-trade and backs the Arizona immigration law.
Still, some of his stances are potential fodder for Democrats in the fall. (Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff face off in an Aug. 10 primary.)
For example, Buck supports the elimination of certain federal agencies; he said that the Department of Education should be "immediately reduced," and that completely eliminating the department is "something we have to consider."
Buck added that there are a number of other agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities -- two longtime sore spots for conservatives -- that could be cut completely. "There are things that I think the federal government shouldn't be involved in in those agencies," Buck said.
Defining Buck then as either a candidate of the tea party or the establishment is significantly more complicated than in places like Nevada or Kentucky.
Even Buck seems somewhat divided on where he sits. Asked whether he welcomed the comparison to Paul or Angle, Buck said that "it'd be really good to be compared to Ken Buck," adding that "being a clone of another candidate is dangerous."
Buck noted, however, that he likely shares "a lot of the same views as other grassroots candidates...I think that's why Jim DeMint has endorsed me, because he believes I have similar views as Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey and Rand Paul."
(Worth noting: Two of the candidates mentioned by Buck -- Toomey and Rubio -- recently held a fundraiser with Norton.)
Josh Penry, Norton's campaign manager and a rising star in the Colorado Republican Party, said that Buck's claim to be running a bottom-up, grassroots campaign is "fiction."
"Ken's a Princeton-educated, career government-lawyer," Penry said, noting that the best man at Buck's wedding was Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D). "He's the consummate political insider, and any other argument is silly," Penry added.
Penry also argued that Norton was the first to call for the elimination of the Department of Education last fall, and said that Norton is in favor of term limits as well, "as long as it's across the board" in all states.
Norton, however, is clearly on defense in the race as she tries to shore up her conservative flank from the encroachment of Buck. Witness her latest web video ad in which Norton slams President Barack Obama for his handling of Guantanamo Bay and other terror-related issues; "Liberals in Washington seem to have forgotten," she says as the screen goes black and the sound of a plane is heard. "But we haven't. Let's win the war on terror."
The August Colorado contest is not the perfect establishment versus tea party outsider race -- in the mold of Nevada and Kentucky. But, Buck is clearly trying to tap into the same activist sentiment that drive Angle and Paul to victory. And, Norton is clearly the choice of the state and national party infrastructure.
Given all of that, a Buck victory would almost certainly be cast as the third tea party Senate primary win of the 2010 election cycle.
-- Felicia Sonmez
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