Why Ken Buck is Different
Two days ago, Ken Buck, the Weld County District Attorney, defeated former Lt. Governor and establishment favorite Jane Norton in the Colorado Republican Senate primary. Beginning right after the race was called for Buck, there has been a wave of articles and blog posts comparing Ken Buck, who is supported by the Tea Party, to Sharron Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky (some have gone so far as to call him an extremist and compare him to Dan Maes). Most in the media state that Buck will harm the Republican's chances of a picking-up the Senate seat in Colorado because he will, like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, be too radical and gaffe-prone to win (this is not supported by the polling, which shows Buck doing just as well against Bennet as Norton).
It is true that they have much in common at first glance. All three were the Tea Party-supported candidates in their primary elections who beat the establishment candidates, all three were powered by strong grassroots support, and all three have made national news with various gaffes.
But that is where the similarities end.
Unlike Rand Paul, Ken Buck is no political novice. He has worked in politics his whole adult life, and has been Weld County's District Attorney since 2004. During his time in office there, he has had only minor controversies, but they are not the kind that break a candidate. If anything, they simply make him look more human.
Contrast his gaffes, which are fewer and far less damaging, to those of other “Tea Party candidates”. Compare Buck's statement that he should be elected because he “doesn't wear high heals” to Paul's call to revisit and repeal parts of the Civil Rights Act. One was a bad joke, the other was a radical policy position far outside of the mainstream. How about Angle, who suggested using “Second Amendment remedies” to the current political situation? Can one envision Buck ever making such a statement?
He succeeds at coming off as an everyman, but doesn't lose his ability to discuss the issues in a calm, rational way. Against Bennet, this could invaluable. The incumbent Democrat can be stiff at times, and this only feeds the image of him as an unelected liberal who nobody had ever heard of until his appointment to replace Ken Salazar.
A Princeton graduate, he is not only intelligent, but pragmatic. Consider that while Angle calls for the repealing of social security, Buck focuses his attention on mainstream conservative solutions to the country's immediate issues. He is not an economic libertarian ideologue. On Afghanistan, and foreign policy in general, he is fairly centrist and avoids the most controversial parts of neocon foreign policy. While he does not support a public timetable for withdrawal, he does believe that Afghanistan cannot be an open-ended nation-building commitment. This position does not scare moderates away like some conservative positions on the war might.
Unfortunately, a narrative-based media and blogosphere lump him with other Tea Party candidates, many of whom are radical and possibly unelectable. His rejecting the most extreme rhetoric and beliefs of the Tea Party have proven that he is a mainstream candidate, and he could very well defeat Michael Bennet this fall.