By Alexander Bolton - 10/21/10 07:09 PM EDT
Ken Buck, the outsider Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, likes to speak his mind but is learning there’s a downside.
Buck is finding himself under scrutiny for a series of controversial statements, including comments calling homosexuality “a lifestyle choice” and the people of Afghanistan “backward,” as well as his dismissal of a rape complaint as “buyer’s remorse.”
Buck’s politically incorrect style has proved popular with independent male voters but less so among women.
Buck upset the GOP establishment’s chosen candidate, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, by running to the right of her and not shying away from bold statements of conservatism — a strategy that also upended Republican establishment candidates in Delaware and Nevada.
Buck is finding, however, the outspoken style that proved popular among Tea Party voters in the GOP primary is a potential liability in a general election.
“He’s attempted to cultivate this image as a straight shooter who shoots from the hip,” said Duffy. “He’s now trying to walk back or repudiate things that he said six months ago, which undercuts his image as a straight shooter.”
Democrats and liberal political groups think those controversial statements have given incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) new momentum.
Polls show the race tightening over the last few weeks.
FOX news/Rasmussen polls showed Buck leading by 4 points at the end of September but ahead by only 1 point in mid-October.
Reuters/Ipsos polls showed Buck’s lead fell from 9 points in late August to 3 points in mid-September.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee together have poured millions of dollars into the race, one of the closest in the country.
“Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund,” a political group dedicated to mobilizing unmarried women, launched a television advertising campaign Wednesday taking Buck to task for his comments.
The group has bought $800,000 worth of airtime over the two weeks before Election Day, according to a Democratic source who tracks media buys.
The ad features Leslie Allen, a mother of three from Colorado, criticizing Buck’s statements in an on-camera monologue.
“Ken Buck thinks he’s more qualified because he doesn’t wear high heels, because he’s not a woman,” Allen tells viewers.
The reference is to Buck’s comment caught on tape during the GOP primary urging voters to support him over Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) “because I do not wear high heels.”
Allen also attacks Buck’s justification for not prosecuting an alleged rape in 2005 while serving as district attorney for Weld County, Colo. He told The Greeley Tribune that a jury might reject the victim’s claim as “buyer’s remorse.”
Buck says his comment to The Tribune was reported out of context, and his campaign says Democrats are trying to draw attention from Bennet’s record in Washington.
“What they’re doing is trying to focus on anything except the record of Michael Bennett, which is a 9.6 percent unemployment rate and a $13.6 trillion debt,” said Buck spokesman Owen Loftus.
Buck stirred up another round of controversy last weekend when he said stood by his claim during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.
“I think that birth has an influence over like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you, you have a choice,” Buck told host David Gregory.
The comparison created an explosion of media headlines.
During the GOP primary, Buck expressed support for a Colorado "personhood" measure, which would grant rights to a fertilized human egg, and a consumption tax but has since backed off those positions. (The Colorado personhood amendment is popular among social conservatives but lost by a margin of 3-to-1 in a 2008 referendum).
The Denver Post cited Buck’s penchant for putting a foot in his mouth when it endorsed Bennet last week.
“Buck, who has served as Weld County district attorney for six years, ran as a far-right Tea Party conservative in his primary race against more moderate Jane Norton, and has now been tracking back to the center,” The Post wrote in an editorial. “It hasn't been an easy waltz. He'd trip over his feet more often in his march to the center if they weren't in his mouth.”
Buck has had to defend his colorful statements as well as his policy positions.
During an October debate sponsored by 9News and The Post, he called the people of Afghanistan a “backward people.”
Last year, Buck parried charges of racism after his office seized thousands of tax records to investigate identity theft by illegal immigrants, a problem the federal government often overlooks.
Buck’s response to the allegations was not what most congressional lawmakers would choose.
“I vacation in Mexico, I eat Mexican food, I don’t dislike Mexicans,” he told The Greeley Tribune.
Buck says voters are tired of politicians who are too cautious to speak plainly.
“People are sick and tired of, of politicians not answering questions, of politicians not being accessible,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” recently. “I have let people know my heart. It hasn’t always been the same exact words to the same questions, but it has been — they know where I’m coming from.”
Buck’s outspoken style was a subject of campaign debate again on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Buck proclaimed global warming a hoax before attending a fundraiser with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) in Loveland, Colo.
“Sen. Inhofe was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated. The evidence just keeps supporting his view, and more and more people's view, of what's going on," Buck said, according to a report in The Coloradoan.
Bennet’s campaign quickly blasted out four press releases condemning the view.