Last week’s legislative recalls in Colorado, which boosted the spirits of Republicans across the state, are unlikely to alter the competitiveness of next year's Senate race.
After a disappointing Senate loss in 2010 — and the gaffes that partly led to it — Ken Buck’s early position as the leading Republican in the primary field isn’t exactly striking fear in the hearts of Democrats. At this point, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is heavily favored for re-election.
Republicans don’t need to win this race to take back Senate control, but putting it in play could at least force Democrats to spend money. As it stands now, that's unlikely to happen.
“If it were coming up this November, I would guess not terribly competitive,” Colorado-based Republican consultant Katy Atkinson said of the race. “Ken Buck is going to have to tell people why he’s electable this year when he couldn’t get elected against Michael Bennet — with a Democrat candidate who was unknown, in a year that was pretty heavily favored Republican.”
The race is rated Safe Democrat by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Last week’s ouster of two Democratic state legislators in Colorado offered a glimmer of hope for a Republican Party that’s suffered through a string of disappointing elections. But with the state’s recent political shift to the left, there's no immediately obvious ripple effect in the Senate race.
“There’s no direct effect, but obviously the tone has shifted to the right and the Democrats are now, in general, in trouble,” Colorado-based independent pollster Floyd Ciruli said. “Particularly the governor — he’s the statewide candidate probably most affected. I don’t think we’ll see anything with the Senate race, at least at the moment.”
There is some belief, however, that the results could entice others to get in the race. State GOP Chairman Ryan Call complimented the party’s candidates so far, but he believes more may take a second look now.
“I do think that the recall elections perhaps might encourage other candidates who are not as optimistic about the Republican Party’s chances to take another look and to recognize that the political winds really are always shifting, especially in a very independent-minded state like Colorado,” Call said.
Beyond Buck, the Republican field currently consists of state Sen. Owen Hill, a young first-term legislator, businessman Jaime McMillan and state Sen. Randy Baumgardner. Former state House Majority Leader Amy Stephens is considering the race, as is former Rep. Bob Beauprez, who told CQ Roll Call that he is also considering a gubernatorial bid.
For Buck, who is still the Weld County district attorney, a return to campaigning comes just months after he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But after three chemotherapy sessions, Buck said in an interview, his doctor has found no identifiable trace of cancer in his body and his stamina is increasing every day.
Buck learned lessons from both his cancer and his previous campaign, he said, and he believes he’ll be a better candidate this time around. He’s already received an endorsement from RedState.com’s Erick Erickson, and Buck hopes the recalls energize the party’s base earlier in the cycle.
“I think that a lot of the issues that I was talking about in 2010 are even more relevant today,” Buck said. “And I think people are going to be more focused on the issues today than sort of the background noise.”
Democratic consultant Laura Chapin said that, given Udall’s fundraising head start and his appeal to moderates in Colorado, plus the “serious liabilities" Republicans have with female voters in Colorado, Udall is ultimately the heavy favorite.
“Republicans have the same problem in the Senate race they've always had," Chapin said. "Their candidates have zero appeal to the suburban women voters who determine the elections here."