Eric Bellamy/The Daily Tribune/AP
Ken Buck accepts the Republican nomination for Senate on Aug. 10 in Loveland, Colo. Buck, the Weld County district attorney, defeated former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the primary.
Ken Buck accepts the Republican nomination for Senate on Aug. 10 in Loveland, Colo. Buck, the Weld County district attorney, defeated former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the primary. Eric Bellamy/The Daily Tribune/AP
Ken Buck was not the Republican establishment's choice for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. In the primary, Buck used lots of Tea Party money to portray himself as an outsider to win the GOP nomination.
Now as he faces incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, Buck needs to convince Colorado's moderate voters that he can represent them. His Democratic challenger is a moderate.
Buck won an underdog victory in the August primary and he gave a nod to the Tea Party in his victory speech that night:
"A year and a-half ago, we started a grass roots campaign to win the nomination for the United States Senate. I heard the same thing all across Colorado that the answer coming out of D.C. was wrong."
Colorado has trended toward electing Democrats in recent years, so you might think incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet would be well ahead of Tea Party-backed Ken Buck in the polls. But he's not — and he's emphasizing his moderate credentials as he also tries to gain support from independent voters.
Read More From NPR's Jeff Brady
Buck's image is that of a country lawyer. A tough county prosecutor. An outsider. But he also spent more than two decades in the Justice Department. He does not talk much about his East Coast upbringing or his Ivy League education from Princeton.
Instead, he wants people to see him as a guy who's most at home wearing a pair of dirty cowboy boots.
Watching Buck campaign, he is not the kind of politician who walks into a room and immediately owns it. He seems reticent as he introduces himself around.
But longtime Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli says that awkwardness probably doesn't hurt.
That's how NPR's Ken Rudin rates the Colorado Senate race between Michael Bennet and Ken Buck. Get Rudin's analysis — and see how other political watchers view the race — at NPR's Election Scorecard.
"It's an asset," Ciruli adds. "This is the year to have no polish, to be off the shelf, brand new."
On Wednesday, Buck was at a small Denver company that makes corrugated boxes. He was there to sign a pledge that he would commit to end estate taxes — something Republicans call the "death tax."
"We've got to get away from government stopping our small businesses from expanding, growing, hiring more people and helping this economy out of the recession," Buck says.
Reaching out to independent voters, Buck wants to keep the focus on the economy and the need to shake up Congress.
But Buck is still unknown to many Colorado voters. Democrats want to define him as an extremist.
Buck, meanwhile, has been modifying some of his positions.
The Denver Post reported that early on in the race, Buck responded to an anti-abortion group's questionnaire by saying he would not vote to confirm any federal nominee to any government job if that nominee is, as the survey put it, pro-abortion.
Now Buck says he would have no litmus test regarding abortion.
It's all about courting the independent voter like Terry Brueger, who lives in a Denver suburb.
"I'm independent because I don't want to be prejudiced against either party," Brueger says.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) visits with a young girl as he campaigns in downtown Colorado Springs on Aug. 9. After surviving a tough primary challenge, Bennet is now in a close race with Tea Party-backed Republican Ken Buck.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) visits with a young girl as he campaigns in downtown Colorado Springs on Aug. 9. After surviving a tough primary challenge, Bennet is now in a close race with Tea Party-backed Republican Ken Buck. Ed Andrieski/AP
She says the economy is a huge issue but so are education and abortion.
"I still think he's a little bit outdated for the 21st century," Brueger says.
More encouraging for Buck is Jim Noone, who owns a small business in Denver that employs a dozen people. Noone is a moderate Republican, who describes himself as pro-choice on abortion. So on that issue he's at odds with Buck but he has no problem voting for him.
"He will still do what's right on the issues that are most important to me because I think a lot of mistakes have been made with the economy," Noone adds.
Buck is counting on that attitude and the focus on the economy, to carry the day in November.