Buck rises to become GOP U.S. Senate frontrunner

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

LOVELAND — Like the phoenix that rises again, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck resurrected his Republican U.S. Senate campaign from the brink of death in September to win the nomination at the state GOP assembly on May 22 at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland.

With his family in the background, Ken Buck addresses delegates after results showed him capturing about 77 percent of the delegate vote at the GOP state assembly.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Buck, who billed himself as a political outsider railed against Washington, D.C. powerbrokers — including Republicans — at “tea party” rallies and GOP events, gained traction and captured 77 percent of the delegate vote and secured top line on the primary ballot.

The depth of support for Buck wasn’t surprising because his strongest Republican rival, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, had decided to bypass the state assembly and petition onto the ballot. Norton delivered her petitions Wednesday to the Secretary of State — and acquired more than the required 1,500 signatures from each of the seven congressional districts.

Former state Sen. Tom Wiens, who launched his U.S. Senate campaign in November, had also planned to petition onto the ballot, but pulled out of the race on Monday and endorsed Buck. Wiens said in a statement that he didn’t want to split the conservative vote in a three-way Republican primary against Buck and Norton.

“We need people like Ken Buck representing us in Washington who will restore respect for the American people, the Constitution and the principles that have made our country the greatest nation in history,” said Wiens.

GOP challengers Cleve Tidwell, a Denver businessman, patent attorney Steve Barton and Dr. Robert Greenheck appealed to state party delegates, but each fell short of the 30 percent threshold to be placed on the primary ballot. Tidwell received 15 percent of the vote, Barton, 2 percent and Greenheck, 1 percent.

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Cleve Tidwell poses with John Walsh, 12, and Jake Reiling, 13, both of Colorado Springs.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

After a family video introducing Buck and nearly a dozen “tea party” seconding speeches at the state party assembly, the candidate launched his stump speech against the liberal “socialist” agenda of Democrats in Washington. His first zinger was lobbed at Norton.

“Candidates need to respect the assembly by coming here and asking for your support,” declared Buck.

The delegates roared in agreement.

Buck denounced candidates who’d vowed to change politics in Washington, D.C. and then, became part of the problem — and swore he would not if elected.

He railed against the bailouts of banks and auto manufacturers. He pledged to fight for a balanced budget amendment and term limits for members elected to Congress, and to crusade against excessive federal spending, illegal immigration and erosion of gun rights.

His message drew thunderous applause, whoops and whistles from the more than 3,500 delegates and several thousand alternates at the state GOP assembly.

Taking nothing for granted after his speech, Buck greeted delegates seated in county sections in the event center and later stood in the lobby to talk with delegates who were leaving after they had cast their ballots.

The primary battle between Buck and Norton promises to be as competitive and contentious. A sample of the tension between the two camps was evident at the Republican 5th Congressional District Assembly on Friday, May 21, at the Embassy Suites hotel.

When Norton appeared to speak, pro-Buck delegates loudly protested.

After the state GOP assembly delegates cast their ballots and before results are announced, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck is stationed in the Budweiser Event Center lobby, shaking hands and answering questions as delegates leave.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

State GOP bylaws prohibit candidates who are petitioning onto the ballot from speaking at the assembly, however, each congressional assembly adopts its own bylaws regarding candidate speeches. Earlier Norton had spoken to delegates in the 3rd, 4th and 6th congressional assemblies without a hitch.

The 5th Congressional District bylaws allow petitioning candidates to address the delegates, but the Buck supporters demanded a vote on whether to uphold it. As the delegates debated the issue and cast their votes, Norton waited with her husband former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton. Standing on the sidelines was Buck who silently observed the commotion.

Two-thirds of the delegates upheld the bylaw. When Norton began speaking, the Buck delegates yelled, booed and hissed. Norton continued; the hecklers ceased gradually.

El Paso County Republican and CFRW Ethics Committee Chair Jo Mitchell said the Buck supporters had every right to be angry and that Norton should have stayed away from the party assemblies.

Others disagreed. Former 5th CD candidate Jeff Crank said later in an e-mail that the behavior was disgraceful — and that delegates need to focus on the “enemy” — incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

“I observed two elections in the Balkins, and nobody behaved the way they did in the 5th Congressional District assembly,” said state Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Some Republicans criticized Buck for refusing to intervene and calm down his delegates. Buck told The Colorado Statesman that the delegates’ behavior was no worse than that of Norton’s campaign manager, state Sen. Josh Penry.

According to Buck, Penry bullied Weld County Chair Karen Pelzer to allow Norton to speak to 4th CD assembly delegates. Pelzer was assisting Republican CD 4 Chair Ron Buxman.

“He yelled and cussed at her!” asserted Buck, who added that Penry “is finished in the Republican Party” — at least in that congressional district.

Pelzer said that Penry had sounded “curt” when he informed her that Norton had arrived to speak. The county chair had hesitated to let the candidate on stage.

“Her name was on the list of speakers,” recalled Pelzer. “Ken (Buck) didn’t want her to speak.”

“People have the right to hear all candidates. Jane was received well — and Ken was too at the assembly,” she said. “People up here support Jane and Ken — they’re both conservative Christians.”

The Weld County chair stressed that she is “neutral” in all contested races. However, Pelzer said she’d told Buck of the conversation in confidence and the exchange with Penry “was not a big deal.”

Norton’s deputy campaign manager, Cinamon Watson, said there wasn’t any disruptive disagreement between Penry and Pelzer, and that the 4th CD delegates had applauded Norton’s speech.

“Ken Buck and his friends staged a demonstration in the 5th Congressional District assembly that was disrespectful,” said Watson. “That didn’t happen in any other assembly.”

Buck’s version of events in the 4th CD assembly, she said, “shows that he’s sunk to a new low level.”

Watson reeled off a list of “Buck’s negative attacks on Norton” that included ads run by “three shady 527 groups. There’s a complaint filed with the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) against Buck.”

Charles R. Grice, Jr., of Aurora, filed a complaint on May 18 against Buck, Buck for Colorado, Declaration Alliance, The Campaign for Liberty, Inc., Americans for Job Security, Jerry L. Morgensen, Hensel Phelps Construction and Perry L. Buck. The complaint alleges that the respondents have individually and collectively coordinated communications paid for by individuals and/or corporations, made impermissible corporate contributions to the candidate’s campaign and that Perry Buck exceeded individual campaign contribution limitations.

“Anyone can file a complaint,” said a Buck supporter. “The question is whether it will stick.”

Republican primary voters will determine which candidate — Buck or Norton — will face the winner of a Democratic primary contest between Bennet and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com