From CQ POLITICS:
DENVER — Even after they became fodder on the campaign trail, Ken Buck refused to ditch his cowboy boots as he traveled across Colorado last week.
Buck clearly enjoys the tough guy image his footwear signifies, but the boots may also be a symbol of his wild ride in trying to harness the power of the tea party in the Republican Senate primary.
Buck owes his rise in the race largely to the tea party movement, yet this week the Weld County district attorney is having to explain his comment that he wants the “dumbasses at the tea party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera.”
It remains to be seen whether Buck’s latest caught-on-tape gaffe has opened the door for former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton to swing the momentum of the Senate primary back her way two weeks before the Aug. 10 contest. But the latest flap underscores the difficulties Buck has faced in trying to ride the tea party to the Senate nomination.
In many ways, the marriage between Buck and the tea party has been one of convenience.
Last fall, Buck’s campaign appeared dead, and reports surfaced that he was planning to drop out of the contest. Norton joined the race in mid-September, and Buck’s fundraising hit a wall. He raised less than $50,000 from October to December after raising nearly $500,000 in his first six months of campaigning.
But as Norton, who also was a state Public Health and Environment Department director and state Representative, came to be seen as the establishment candidate, tea party activists began casting about for an alternative.
Some activists in the state admit that they are supporting Buck in large part because he’s not Norton.
Buck caught fire with tea party activists even though he hadn’t been identified as a leader of Colorado’s ultraconservative movement like former GOP Reps. Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave.
“I never knew of Ken Buck being an originator of the movement a couple of years ago; I think they adopted him,” longtime Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli said. “But he is sufficiently conservative, and he is the non-establishment, outsider candidate. He got [the tea party] endorsement and ran with it.”
Although she still rejects the label, the image of Norton as the establishment choice was solidified after it was revealed that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was reserving website domain names for her campaign and that NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) would travel to Colorado for a joint fundraiser with her.
Not all Colorado Republicans think Norton’s previous elected experience or her support in national GOP circles is a negative.
As he waited for former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to address a gathering of Norton supporters in Colorado Springs on Friday, Frank Shannon said it’s not such a bad thing that Norton already has connections with other GOP leaders.
Although Norton’s fundraising has been consistently stronger than Buck’s, she decided to skip the state GOP’s assembly in May and secured her place on the primary ballot by gathering petitions. That move was widely seen as a way to avoid the embarrassment of coming in second to Buck among the more hard-core party activists who make up the delegate population.
By mid-June, Buck was up by 16 points over Norton, according to a Denver Post poll.
But the biggest drawback of Buck’s tea party support is that some members of the group periodically say things that are controversial, which can force Buck into a tricky position.
On Thursday, Norton released a new commercial slamming Buck for a comment he made about the cowboy boots he wears so proudly.
“Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels,” Buck says in a video clip used in the ad. “I have cowboy boots. They have real bullshit on them. That’s Weld County bullshit.”
Norton has said she believes Buck is connected to a trio of 527 groups led by the conservative group Americans for Job Security, which has dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads targeting her and promoting Buck.
Norton supporters are hoping voters view Buck’s high-heeled shoes comments as sexist and that they will give voters pause during the final two weeks of the campaign.
In June, Norton earned some traction by questioning Buck’s ethics over a gun case he refused to prosecute in 2000 when he was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. And over the past week, the boots versus high-heeled shoes flap has garnered national headlines. At the Santorum event, one Norton supporter said Buck’s comments and salty language won’t go over well with the religious right in the party.