By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Whatever your partisan bent, most people in the state can identify with the frequently uttered adage Tuesday night about what a difference two years makes. In the case of Colorado Republicans on Election Night, that difference came down to just a few hours.
It was shortly after 1 a.m. early Wednesday morning when GOP State Chair Dick Wadhams and Walt Klein, general consultant on Senate candidate Ken Buck’s campaign, sauntered into the ballroom of the Greenwood Village DoubleTree Hotel where fellow Republicans were still moseying about. While rattling off clear-cut wins his party had garnered earlier, Wadhams refrained from all but declaring victory for his precipitously positioned Senate nominee. But he promised folks that Coloradans would wake up a few hours later with a newly elected Senator to take the place of Michael Bennet. Afterall, his candidate was ahead by a few thousand vote.
Klein would bolster Wadhams’ contention afterwards in short remarks to the GOP diehards who milled around in search of updated turnout numbers at that ungodly hour. Tired beyond belief from not just the late hour (or early, if you want to be precise) but months of hard-fought campaigning in a highly combative political arena, Klein’s message touched on predicted voting models that he said still favored his candidate.
That candidate, meanwhile, had already departed. Buck needed to make sure his daughter was safely en route back to college, and with election results still dribbling in, it seemed like a reasonable time to take a little break.
Wadhams reveled in news that the state GOP had picked up two congressional seats, won three statewide races and taken over one chamber of the state legislature. His chirpy comments to loyal hangers-on and a few assembled media were noted and the ballroom began to finally clear out for good.
When the sun emerged a few hours later, the political landscape came into full view.
Ken Buck’s anticipated Senate victory had apparently been halted.
The race was called early Wednesday morning in favor of his Democratic opponent, and vote tallies from several delinquent counties reaffirmed the jolting news. Bennet retained his appointed post in the U.S. Senate.
Buck said he called Bennet that afternoon to congratulate him on winning.
While the final margin in the race was very small, Buck related, Colorado voters had spoken. He wished Senator Bennet well.
“My Senate campaign has been the experience of a lifetime,” Buck said in a statement. “I will be forever grateful to the thousands of Coloradans who helped make this grassroots journey possible.”
In a memo to party leaders later, Wadhams blamed outside forces for crushing Buck’s candidacy.
“There is no doubt the malicious and deceitful ads by Michael Bennet were largely responsible for Ken Buck’s defeat. Bennet and his leftist allies spent millions during the final three weeks with despicable ads narrowly targeted to undecided unaffiliated women voters attempting to make Ken Buck unacceptable. They wanted to move the debate from the economy and spending to abortion and other social issues with those voters. That narrow slice of the electorate was still up for grabs as Buck was clinging to a narrow lead going into Election Day. Unfortunately, their strategy worked,” Wadhams decried.
“Despite the myth already being propagated since Election Day that Democrats had a more effective turn-out operation, the Colorado Republican Victory voter identification and turnout operation was successful and superior to the Democrats,” Wadhams claimed.
The party leader cited stats from The Denver Post that reported with 96 percent of precincts in, Buck had 783,426 votes compared to AG John Suthers with 908,026; treasurer candidate Walker Stapleton with 815,715; and secretary of state nominee Gessler with 804,953. “Clearly there was a drop off between Buck and our other statewide candidates. While the Bennet/leftist media strategy moved those unaffiliated women voters away from Buck, they largely went on to vote for Republicans Suthers, Stapleton, Gessler and (CU Regent Steve) Bosley.
“Had the vaunted Democratic turnout operation been as effective as post-election mythology is portraying it, Democrats would have swept all of the statewide offices we won,” Wadhams stated.
“The bottom line is that Bennet’s deceitful negative media strategy worked in turning just enough undecided voters against Buck who were otherwise inclined to vote for Republican statewide candidates,”he added.