By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
DENVER — A visit to boost the campaign of GOP Senate contender Ken Buck by conservative darling Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, was engulfed in controversy last week after remarks made at a picnic by former Rep. Tom Tancredo calling President Obama “the greatest threat to the United States today.”
After the lunchtime rally, which featured music and hot dogs at a park on the outskirts of downtown, Buck roundly rejected Tancredo’s remarks in a conversation with reporters. But the story didn’t end there.
Democrats charged later that Buck tempered his disagreement with Tancredo’s incendiary statement over the weekend before a conservative audience, a claim the Buck campaign vigorously contested.
To mix things up further, Buck’s opponent in the August primary, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, rushed to Tancredo’s defense with an online posting despite the former congressman’s enthusiastic support for Buck.
Nearly lost in the hubbub was DeMint’s ringing endorsement of Buck, which came with its own call to arms for Colorado conservatives and landed with a dollop of cash at a fundraiser later that day.
“The unbridled Democrat Party led by Barack Obama is leading our country to the left of Europe,” DeMint told a crowd of about 200 assembled at City of Cuernevaca Park. The trend, he said, was “frightening.”
DeMint cast this year’s election — and the primary fight between Buck and Norton — as a battle between entrenched interests and grassroots upstarts, which he said Buck exemplified.
“What we need in Washington are a few reinforcements,” he said, gesturing to Buck.
“When Obama says ‘Yes we can,’ we need a few people who’ll say, ‘No, you won’t.’ ”
Mingling with avid supporters and not a few star-struck fans, DeMint signed copies of his bestselling manifesto Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism.
“We’re taking back our country,” DeMint told the cheering crowd before introducing Buck, who is a candidate, he said, with “the courage to say ‘no.’”
That’s what Buck had to do soon afterward, following a ringing denunciation of Obama delivered by Tancredo.
Earlier, before DeMint and Buck spoke, Tancredo had compared Obama to other dangers faced by the nation — including the Great Depression, World War II, the threat of nuclear war with the Soviets and terrorist attacks — and said Obama was as grave a threat.
Taking the stage to send off the crowd on a high note, Tancredo — no stranger to controversy during his five terms representing a south metro area congressional district — said he wanted to make clear what the stakes are in the upcoming election.
“I firmly believe this with all my heart,” Tancredo said as DeMint and Buck looked on, “that the greatest threat to the United States today — the greatest threat to our liberty, the greatest threat to the Constitution of the United States, the greatest threat to everything we believe in, the greatest threat to the country that was put together by the Founding Fathers — is the guy that is in the White House today.” At that point, the crowd erupted in cheers, but Buck and his family remained stone faced and didn’t join in the applause.
Minutes later, speaking with reporters, Buck stepped back firmly from Tancredo’s remarks.
Asked whether he agreed with Tancredo that Obama was the “greatest threat” to the country, Buck shook his head.
“I think he’s created a new word in the dictionary,” Buck said. “It’s called a ‘Tancredo-ism.’ I don’t agree — I think there are a lot of threats to this country, and I don’t think the man in the White House is the greatest threat to this country at all.”
Buck went on to say that he is “concerned about the direction of the country,” and then added, “I love Tom but don’t always agree with him.”
The next day Norton — in a bid for the mantle of the true conservative in the increasingly bitter Senate primary — threw in with Tancredo, even though he has attacked her relentlessly for her ties to Sen. John McCain since last fall.
“There was a real measure of truth to what Tancredo said,” Norton posted on her Facebook page. “Obama is spending this country into bankruptcy. Admiral Mullen said our debt is a greater threat than terrorism. It’s time to end the culture of political correctness. Obama’s brand of big government is a threat to America.”
But two days later, when Buck followed Tancredo on stage at the Western Conservative Summit at a Littleton hotel, he sounded more sympathetic to Tancredo’s warning.
“The other day, my good friend and supporter, Tom Tancredo, said that the greatest threat to this country is the man who occupied the White House, Barack Obama,” Buck said from the stage. “And there is a lot of truth, a lot of truth in what Tom Tancredo said.”
Democrats almost immediately pounced, calling Buck’s most recent statement a retreat from his previous disavowal of Tancredo’s rhetoric. The candidate was trying to have it both ways, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said, casting himself as more moderate than Tancredo when reporters questioned him but throwing red meat to a crowd of supporters when they demanded it.
“Colorado voters simply can’t trust Ken Buck,” Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak said in a statement blasted to reporters after Buck’s remarks. “Last week in an attempt to hide his extreme views, he told everyone that he didn’t believe that the President of the United States was the ‘greatest threat’ to America. Yet today, in front of a group of ultra-conservative activists, he flip-flopped and decided that the President is.”
Not so fast, Buck’s campaign shot back. Early news reports on Buck’s address to the conservative crowd left out crucial remarks that followed, campaign spokesman Owen Loftus argued, including ones that established the proper context. The campaign made sure reporters received a copy of Buck’s extended remarks, which, Loftus said, proved Buck hadn’t changed his tune, merely amplified it.
“The greatest threat is not a single man,” Buck continued, “but, rather, the progressive, liberal movement that is going on in this country. It is the $13 trillion of national debt. It is a huge threat to our security and financial system — Obamacare, Cap and Trade, Card Check, our disintegrating relationship with Israel — it is a huge threat to this country.”
In other words, Loftus said, Buck doesn’t agree with Tancredo’s description of Obama, but does agree the nation is on a dangerous course that threatens its foundation.
“Ken respects the office of the presidency,” Loftus said, “but he totally disagrees with the president’s agenda.”