Norton hammers Buck on ‘profanity laced tirades’

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

DENVER — Republican Jane Norton’s U.S. Senate campaign turned up the heat on primary rival Ken Buck this week over a series of off-the-cuff remarks, including one where he said voters should pick him because he doesn’t “wear high heels” and another where he called some conservative Tea Party members “dumbasses.”

Buck apologized for the remarks but his campaign shrugged off the attacks, saying the Norton camp is trying to distract Republican primary voters from important differences between the candidates.

Jane Norton campaigners Claire Sanderson, left, and Rainey Wallace wear high heels at Denver’s Molly Brown House on Friday to show off a T-shirt meant to capitalize on a remark made by Norton’s GOP primary opponent, Ken Buck.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, tells reporters, “In one of the most important Senate elections in Colorado history, Ken Buck is proving to be one of the least serious candidates in memory.”
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Senate candidate Jane Norton (right) speaks with supporter Karl Stecher during a breakfast on July 23 at Denver GOP headquarters. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum spoke about the importance of the Republican Party having a conservative woman candidate as “compelling as Jane Norton” running for Senate.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman
Denver marketing maven Sharon Linhart, a Norton supporter, blasts Buck making comments “unbecoming” a Senate candidate.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum gives Senate candidate Jane Norton his wholehearted endorsement at a breakfast rally at Denver County Republican headquarters on July 23.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

As voters statewide begin to return mail ballots for the August 10 primary, audio recordings of Buck making “unguarded” remarks took center stage in a rivalry that has focused since last fall on whether Buck or Norton is the more steadfast conservative on tax and spending questions.

Norton, a former lieutenant governor, is portraying Weld County District Attorney Buck — who won top line on the ballot after Norton opted to skip the state assembly — as someone who isn’t ready for the spotlight.

On Monday, Norton questioned whether Buck has “the temperament and character” for the U.S. Senate after a recording surfaced of Buck referring to Tea Party members with questions about President Obama’s birth certificate as “dumbasses.”

“My opponent has given more profanity laced tirades than he has specifics on reforming our unaffordable system of entitlements,” Norton said at a press conference at the State Capitol.

Hogwash, replied the Buck campaign, though not in so many words.

“It would be nice if Jane would spend as much time talking about the issues as she does attacking Ken,” said Buck spokesman Owen Loftus. “The fact is, Jane’s on the wrong side of the issues and voters are seeing right through it. That’s why Ken is leading in the polls.”

An internal poll released late last week by the Buck campaign showed Buck with a 9-point lead over Norton among likely Republican voters.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday showed both Republicans winning the support of 48 percent of likely general election voters against incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet, who faces a primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

The survey showed “virtually no change” from another poll conducted two weeks earlier, the polling company said, suggesting there was little, if any, net effect from Buck’s remarks.

At the press conference, Norton charged Buck’s recent string of gaffes show he has been deriding his supporters in “unguarded” moments that happened to be caught on tape.

Late Sunday night both The Denver Post and 9News reported that Buck expressed frustration prior to a June event in Crowley about “Birther” questions from Tea Party members. Buck made the comments to a Democratic Party tracker assigned to record the candidate’s speeches and appearances.

“Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera,” said Buck with a laugh to the Democratic campaign worker. “What am I supposed to do?”

Buck wasn’t talking about Tea Party members in general, Loftus said, only the “Birthers” — conservative activists who persist in demanding Obama produce his “real” birth certificate — who are “spending time talking about an issue that isn’t an issue.”

Norton agreed on that last point, saying questions about Obama’s birth certificate have been “settled” by the state of Hawaii.

Loftus said the Buck campaign has “gotten a ton of e-mails and a ton of calls” from Tea Party and 9-12 group members reaffirming support for Buck since the story about his June remarks broke.

“They’re still firmly on Ken’s side,” he said. “It’s because Ken’s on the right side of the issues.”

The state’s chief Democrat and a national Democratic campaign group slammed Buck the same day Norton piled on at her press conference.

“What Buck should do is denounce the Birther movement once and for all and be straight with Colorado voters,” Democratic Chairwoman Pat Waak said in a statement. “Does he really believe in the Tea Party movement? Does he think Social Security is a horrible policy and that Health Care reform should be repealed? Buck needs to come clean and tells us what he really believes and stop playing up to audiences for applause.”

“Coloradans always knew that Ken Buck was an extremist, but now they are finding out he is a fraud as well,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy in a statement. “After receiving strong backing from the Tea Party, Ken Buck has the nerve to trash them in private.”

It’s the third time in as many weeks the Buck campaign has found itself explaining the candidate’s remarks after they were recorded and later broadcast.

Earlier this month, Buck was recorded saying, “I can’t believe that guy opened his mouth,” after remarks made by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo at a rally for Buck that featured an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina.

Tancredo — who announced this week he’s running for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket — had told the crowd at the Buck rally he thought Obama was a greater threat to the United States than World War II, the Soviets and al Qaeda.

Buck distanced himself from Tancredo’s remarks minutes later but the next day told another group he agreed the liberal movement represented a grave threat to the country. Norton defended Tancredo — an ardent Buck supporter and Norton detractor — in a posting to her Facebook account.

Calling other remarks made by Buck “ridiculous and demeaning,” the Colorado state Senate’s lone Republican woman kicked up the controversy last Friday at a press conference to introduce a Norton TV ad.

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

“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,” Loftus said after Spence’s press conference. “Coloradans are tired of Jane’s ‘all negative, all the time’ campaign.”

The controversy over Buck’s footwear quip erupted earlier in the 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 was 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 shoes 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 at the Independence Institute’s annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms event.

“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, 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.”

The morning of Spence’s press conference, a leading national conservative figure 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.

Declaring 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.

A spokeswoman for the Norton campaign said Monday there were no plans to produce an ad aimed at Buck’s remarks about Tea Party members, but added that things could change.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com