In a Colorado Republican Party shake-up that sent rumbles throughout the state and all the way to Washington, D.C., Weld District Attorney Ken Buck and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner have swapped races.
Buck said Wednesday he will drop his bid for U.S. Senate and instead pursue the 4th Congressional District seat, which represents Weld County and most of northeastern Colorado.
Gardner, a Republican from Yuma who currently represents the 4th, will run for U.S. Senate.
“I have talked with Cory Gardner and feel that he would be a strong candidate for the United States Senate to beat Mark Udall,” Buck said. “I made the decision to step down and endorse Cory for that job. I was running against Mark Udall because I think this country needed to change directions, and I still think the country needs to change directions, and I think Cory gives us the best chance to get that done.”
Buck, a Windsor resident who participated in a Republican debate put on by The Denver Post on Tuesday night, said he had talked to Gardner for about 10 days about the change.
“I am convinced that this is the best move for Republicans and also the best move to change the direction of the country,” Buck said. “I think Cory has been in D.C., and he has both the cash on hand as well as the connections with the activists to make him a very formidable candidate.”
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio didn’t mince words in his reaction to the surprising events.
“Given Republicans’ back-room wheeling and dealing, Coloradans will see that Cory Gardner is simply a Ken Buck-radical who is neck deep in Washington sleaze,” Palacio said in a statement. “Gardner is just another reckless House Republican when it comes to dismantling Social Security and Medicare, banning abortion and many types of birth control, and irresponsibly putting our economy at risk to advance his political agenda.”
Gardner did not respond to several calls and emails from The Tribune seeking comment.
Political analyst Floyd Ciruli of Denver said the moves by Buck and Gardner will make the Republican Party stronger.
“It’s a much stronger ticket. Buck will be very strong at the Congressional level,” Ciruli said. “I think in terms of engineering this, I think the leadership of the party here recognizes that the one thing that has been missing after this long sort of drought where they have not been able to win a top-level seat is that Cory was probably the star out there and that his entrance into the race would change the entire dynamic.”
Buck surprised many political observers in 2010 to win his party’s nomination for Senate. He then narrowly lost to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in 2010 in a hard-fought Senate campaign, and had launched a bid to unseat Udall by traveling to every county in the state and releasing a series of “Ken Cares” videos on YouTube and his campaign website.
Gardner, a rising star in the GOP, beat Democrat Betsy Markey in 2010 to win his seat in Congress. He held the seat in 2012.
In the wake of the news about the Buck-Gardner swap, Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, dropped her bid for the Republican nomination in the Senate race and endorsed Gardner on Thursday.
The other candidates in the GOP primary — Sen. Owen Hill, Mark Aspiri, Randy Baumgardner, Stephen Lafley, Jaime McMillan and Floyd Trujillo — did not immediately say what they planned to do.
Along with Buck, also running for the 4th Congressional seat is Democrat Vic Meyers of Trinidad and unaffiliated candidate Grant Doherty of Lochbuie.
Buck said he’s looking forward to running for Congress.
“I’ve been elected in Weld County three times as district attorney,” Buck said. “I’ve traveled the eastern plains and Douglas County, and I’m confident that I will do well. I hope people are excited about the Republican ticket this year.”
According to the Federal Election Commission year-end reports, Gardner had $876,679 in cash on hand at the end of 2013 and Buck had $262,347. Meyers said Wednesday that he’s raised about $10,000 so far.
Meyers, who will be in Greeley on Saturday for a fundraiser, said he was surprised at the news.
“Wow. Ken Buck, really?” Meyers said. “Cory Gardner didn’t represent this district. That’s why I was getting traction. There is no way Ken Buck can represent this district. He is so far out there that only the most Tea Partyish of Tea Party people are going to support him.”
Doherty, who said he’s raised a little less than $5,000, said he won’t run his campaign any differently now that Buck has entered the race.
“My goal really hasn’t changed. My goal from the beginning was to get elected and to represent the people of the 4th District,” Doherty said. “With it being Buck or with it being Gardner, my goal is really the same. I have nothing against Cory, and I have nothing against Ken Buck either.”