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Buck Navigates Tea Party Pros and Cons in Colorado

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Colorado Republican Senate hopefuls Ken Buck and Jane Norton debate on a local news show last week. The primary is Aug. 10. To see more photos, click here.

DENVER — Even after they became fodder on the campaign trail, Ken Buck refused to ditch his cowboy boots as he traveled across Colorado last week.

Buck clearly enjoys the tough guy image his footwear signifies, but the boots may also be a symbol of his wild ride in trying to harness the power of the tea party in the Republican Senate primary.

Buck owes his rise in the race largely to the tea party movement, yet this week the Weld County district attorney is having to explain his comment that he wants the “dumbasses at the tea party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera.”

It remains to be seen whether Buck’s latest caught-on-tape gaffe has opened the door for former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton to swing the momentum of the Senate primary back her way two weeks before the Aug. 10 contest. But the latest flap underscores the difficulties Buck has faced in trying to ride the tea party to the Senate nomination.

In many ways, the marriage between Buck and the tea party has been one of convenience.

Last fall, Buck’s campaign appeared dead, and reports surfaced that he was planning to drop out of the contest. Norton joined the race in mid-September, and Buck’s fundraising hit a wall. He raised less than $50,000 from October to December after raising nearly $500,000 in his first six months of campaigning.

But as Norton, who also was a state Public Health and Environment Department director and state Representative, came to be seen as the establishment candidate, tea party activists began casting about for an alternative.

Some activists in the state admit that they are supporting Buck in large part because he’s not Norton.

Norton “has been more exposed to Washington politics than he has,” said Merrill Peake, 70, a Vietnam veteran who was cruising downtown Denver’s 16th Street Mall on Thursday with a small “Don’t Tread on Me” flag attached to his motorized wheelchair. “Norton will bend to Washington. [Buck] hasn’t been to Washington so he doesn’t know all the dirty tricks.”

“She has been involved more [in government],” said Tracey Nazarenus, a manager at the Brighton Depot restaurant whose friends say she reminds them of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “If you’re in, you’re out. It’s that kind of year.”

Buck caught fire with tea party activists even though he hadn’t been identified as a leader of Colorado’s ultraconservative movement like former GOP Reps. Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave.

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