LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

On the Republican side, Ken Buck was not the Republican establishment choice. In the primary, Buck had lots of Tea Party support. He portrayed himself as an outsider to win the GOP nomination. Now he needs to convince Colorado's moderate voters that he can represent them.

NPR's Don Gonyea has this report from Denver.

DON GONYEA: When Ken Buck won an underdog victory in the August primary, he gave a nod to the Tea Party in his victory speech that night.

Mr. KEN BUCK (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Colorado): A year and a half ago, we started a grass roots campaign to win the nomination for the United States Senate, and I heard the same thing all across Colorado - that the answer coming out of D.C. was wrong.

GONYEA: 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 U.S. Department of Justice. He does not talk much about his East Coast upbringing, 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's 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.

Mr. FLOYD CIRULI (Pollster): Its an asset. This is the year to have no polish, to be off the shelf, brand new.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BUCK: Well, thank you, thanks very much for hosting this.

GONYEA: Yesterday Ken 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.

Mr. BUCK: 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 that we're in.

GONYEA: Reaching out to independent voters, Buck wants to keep the focus on the economy and the need to shake up Congress. But Democrats want the dialogue to be about Buck himself. This ad by the Michael Bennet campaign strings together a series of statements in Buck's own voice.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Buck wants to privatize Social Security and he even questioned whether Social Security should exist at all.

Mr. BUCK: I don't know whether it's constitutional or not. It is certainly a horrible policy.

GONYEA: The ad also shows Buck saying he doesn't know if the U.S. needs a Department of Education, and criticizing student loan programs. It goes on.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Ken Buck even wants to ban common forms of birth control. And Buck's view on abortion...

Mr. BUCK: I am pro-life, and I'll answer the next question. I don't believe in the exceptions of rape or incest.

GONYEA: Ken 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, he 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 tests regarding abortion.

Again, it's all about courting the independent voter like Terry Brueger, who lives in the Denver suburbs.

Ms. TERRY BREUGER: I'm independent because I don't want to be - be prejudiced against either party.

GONYEA: Brueger says the economy is a huge issue, but so too is education and abortion. She says Ken Buck's positions trouble her.

Ms. BREUGER: I still think he's a little bit outdated for the 21st century.

GONYEA: 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 is at odds with Buck, but he has no problem voting for him.

Mr. JIM NOONE: I think he will still do what is right on the issues that are most important to me, because I think a lot of mistakes have been made for the economy.

GONYEA: Republican Ken Buck is counting on that attitude, and the focus on the economy, to carry the day in November.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Denver.

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