You’ve probably heard of Marco, Rand and Sharron. But don’t be surprised if you see the name Ken added to that list of insurgent, Tea Party heroes.
Republican Ken Buck, riding the tide of his unforeseen surging Senate campaign in Colorado, is angling to join the club of once-seen-as-long shot GOP candidates who’ve beat out their so-called establishment Republican primary opponents.
“I think it is a classic grassroots versus establishment race,” Buck, running for the U.S. Senate in Colorado, said of his primary fight against Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. “And as much as the other side doesn’t want to accept that characterization, the voters are accepting it.”
In an interview with The Daily Caller, the Weld County district attorney acknowledged the similarities between his contest and those of Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida and Sharron Angle in Nevada. It’s not hard to see.
Like those Tea Party-backed candidates, Buck was written off early in the race against an opponent with establishment support. Many expected him to drop out of the race when Norton jumped in the contest. But Buck stayed in, and in March, he won the GOP caucuses.
“I think Buck’s success is as much a story about Jane Norton as it is about Buck,” said Colorado State political science professor John Straayer. A SurveyUSA poll last month shows Buck with 53 percent, compared to Norton’s 37 percent. Her campaign, which has been arguing that she’s an ardent conservative too, could not be reached for comment for this story.
From the start, Norton has been seen as the “insider-establishment” candidate, Straayer said, and as the Tea Party element in the Republican Party became noisier, Buck “reaped the benefits.” The ever-energetic Buck—whom Straayer said gives off the image of the more aggressive candidate—was “fortunate to put his boat in the stream at just the right time.”
Buck attributes his rise to his non-stop grassroots campaigning in living rooms, churches and truck stops. “When we won the caucuses, despite really being outspent tremendously, I think it sort of legitimatized us in the minds of a lot of other people,” he reflected.
But also like the other Tea Party candidates, Democrats have pounced on Buck’s past statements, seeking to portray him as extreme. He’s been quoted saying that while he’s not for “state sponsored religion” by any means, “we would be much better off with a closer relationship between church and state.” Critics have also pointed out comments he’s made about eliminating the Departments of Education and Energy and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Unsurprisingly, he rejects the notion that his beliefs are outside the mainstream. “I tell you what I think is extreme is having 13 trillion dollars of in debt and 100 trillion dollars of unfunded liability,” he said. “I think talking about how we turn to limit federal government is very rational. And I think that message is getting out in spite of the labels that others are trying to place on it.”
The media, he suggested, can mischaracterize his stances from time to time by taking “two words out of a three paragraph analysis and start talking about issues in very simplified terms.” But he’s definitely not ignoring the press.
“I have returned every phone call I have gotten to this point, and I think the upside for a candidate — a challenger like myself — is I need free media, and I need to get my name out there and my ideas out there.”
Asked to describe his dream legislation—ignoring the reality of passage, but naming ultimate desired laws—he said, “first is a constitutional balanced budget amendment, and the second is a constitutional term limit for senators and representatives.”
Buck has been endorsed by some of the top anti-establishment kingmakers this year, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which has been at the forefront of the Tea Party movement. “I won the caucus and then he endorsed me,” Buck said of DeMint. “I think it was a combination of those two things that really propelled us.”
Last week, DeMint and other supporters rallied in Colorado for Buck’s campaign, but the event caused some bad press when former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo said at the rally that “the greatest threat to the United States today… is the guy who is in the White House today.” Buck tried to distance himself from those comments afterward.
Colorado’s Republican primary is set for Aug. 10.