Norton backers pump up outrage over footwear scuffle

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

DENVER — Calling remarks made by GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck “ridiculous and demeaning,” the Colorado Senate’s lone Republican woman kicked up the controversy Friday at a press conference to introduce an ad from Jane Norton, Buck’s primary opponent.

The ad, which began airing statewide Thursday morning, plays a video clip of Buck “caught on tape” answering a question at an Independence Institute fundraiser held last weekend in Kiowa.

Jane Norton supporter state Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, holds a DVD containing a Norton ad blasting Republican primary opponent Ken Buck for a remark he made about high heels. Spence appeared Friday in front of Denver's historic Molly Brown House along with other Republican women who support Norton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Jane Norton supporters Claire Sanderson, left, an intern with the Republican's Senate campaign, and Rainey Wallace, Norton's deputy finance director, both wearing high heels at Denver's Molly Brown House on Friday, show off a T-shirt meant to capitalize on a remark made by Norton's GOP primary opponent, Ken Buck. "The Buck stops here," the back of the T-shirt reads in vivid pink, next to an illustration of a high-heeled shoe.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, right, endorses GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton at a breakfast rally Friday at Denver Republican headquarters. He said Colorado Republicans have the rare opportunity to help elect a woman who is a true conservative.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels,” Buck says in the clip, which is played twice in the Norton ad.

“What a juvenile, childish and stupid thing to say,” scolded state Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, on the steps of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown’s historic Capitol Hill mansion.

Spence appeared alongside Denver marketing maven Sharon Linhart, another Norton supporter, to blast Buck for what they called comments “unbecoming” a Senate candidate.

“In one of the most important Senate elections in Colorado history,” Spence said, “Ken Buck is proving to be one of the least serious candidates in memory.”

“No surprise there — Jane’s avoiding the issues and slinging mud,” said Buck campaign spokesman Owen Loftus after Spence’s press conference. “Coloradans are tired of Jane’s ‘all negative, all the time’ campaign.”

The controversy over Buck’s quip erupted earlier this week when the video snippet — lacking explanatory context, Buck’s campaign charges — began making its way around the Internet.

Buck’s campaign fired back that it is Norton who has been telling voters to pick her because, as she said in a televised interview, “I’m a girl,” though she immediately called that assertion a clumsy attempt at a joke.

Buck’s remarks on the video clip were a “humorous reference to the way Jane Norton and her campaign have repeatedly cited gender as a defining difference” between the candidates, the Buck campaign said in a statement issued hours after the Norton campaign began running its “high heels” ad.

The Norton campaign was having none of it. The ad, said Norton campaign aide Rachel Boxer, “points out how ridiculous his remarks are and how sophomoric his remarks are and how unbefitting it is for a United States senator.”

But it was the Norton campaign that first made footwear an issue in the race, months ago, the Buck campaign pointed out.

Norton campaign manager Josh Penry even cited Norton’s high heels as a reason to vote for her, in remarks delivered to the Western Slope Conservative Alliance, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported in April.

“We need somebody to kick Harry Reid in the shins, and Jane is going to do that with her high heels,” Penry told conservatives, taking aim at the liberal Senate majority leader.

Spence wasn’t buying it. One reference to high heels doesn’t translate into open season on the fashion accessories, she said.

“Quite frankly, he’s the one that lit the fire,” she said, referring to Buck. “The (Norton) campaign didn’t do that.”

High heels aren’t the only shoes Buck talked about while cameras were rolling.

“She has questioned my manhood,” Buck goes on to say, in a portion snipped from the video in the Norton campaign’s ad. “I think it's fair to respond.” Buck then adds, “I have cowboy boots. They have real bullsh-- on them. That’s Weld County bullsh--.”

In another ad airing statewide since last week, Norton challenges Buck to “be man enough to do it himself,” rather than rely on independent expenditures to attack Norton in yet more TV ads.

Spence said at the press conference she was equally offended by Buck’s explicit reference to what might be on his boots.

“It’s not only his remarks about the high heels,” Spence said, “but the rest of the remarks were so unfitting of a U.S. Senate candidate — the times he mentioned the ‘B.S.’ word, like five times probably, that’s not what a U.S. Senate candidate would say in public.”

As far as Spence was concerned, she said, speaking in an “undignified” way in front of a large audience pointed to a larger problem for Buck.

“All those things together, I think,” she said, “say a lot about Ken’s ability to serve, to serve the people of Colorado in a respectable way.”

A couple hours before the press conference, a leading national conservative appeared in Denver to endorse Norton in part, he said, because the Republican Party needs to elect “articulate, confident and passionate” women who are also true conservatives.

Calling the upcoming midterm election “the most important election of your life,” former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum — a Pennsylvania Republican and potential presidential candidate— gave Norton his wholehearted endorsement at a breakfast rally at Denver County Republican headquarters.

“We all feel it in our bones,” Santorum said, “We need to elect people in our primaries who are solid conservatives and who can win the general election.” He said Norton had all those qualities but then singled out her gender as one of the key reasons she had his support

“The bottom line is, we have not in the Republican Party done a very good job electing conservative women to the United States Senate,” Santorum said. He explained that even the four women in the Senate who are Republicans aren’t always solid conservatives.

“It’s important for the country — for our movement — to see conservative women elevated as spokespersons for our party and for our movement,” he added.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com