Ken Buck knows all about close races.
The Weld district attorney may be in for another one in 2014.
Buck, who was the Republican candidate against Democrat Michael Bennet in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, lost to Bennet by less than 2 percentage points (48.1 percent to 46.4 percent).
The Windsor resident announced in August that he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2014, and he received some good news Tuesday when the Quinnipiac University poll released numbers that has him trailing Sen. Mark Udall by only 3 percentage points — 45 percent to 42 percent — among Colorado voters for the 2014 U.S. Senate race.
Political pundits say Buck, 54, has the name recognition from the 2010 campaign in the race to capture the GOP nomination.
Other Republicans running against Buck in their quest for the party’s nomination are state Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Owen Hill, and state Rep. Amy Stephens.
Buck said the numbers — the poll also indicated that only 41 percent of Colorado voters said Udall deserved to be re-elected — show the dissatisfaction over Udall’s performance in Washington, D.C.
“Someone that has been in D.C. for 15 years should have a large lead at this point and he doesn’t,” Buck said Thursday. “It’s because people are disillusioned with what’s happening in D.C., and I think it’s very encouraging that we are within the margin of error in this race. It’s good news. It shows that he’s vulnerable.”
Adam Dunstone, Udall’s campaign manager, said Udall is taking every opponent seriously.
“This poll shows that Colorado is still very much a swing state,” Dunstone said Thursday. “We take all of our opponents seriously and have always known this would be a competitive race. Mark will run on his impressive record of accomplishment for Colorado families and the country. And when voters look at that record, I am confident Mark will be re-elected.”
Political analyst Floyd Ciruli of Denver said the combination of Buck’s name recognition and the recent Obamacare collapse makes him the frontrunner.
“It is a pretty clear reflection that federal and top-level Democrats are being hurt by the collapse of the president’s approval rating and Obamacare,” Ciruli said Thursday. “It is pulling all of these Democrats down. Ken has the highest name identification. If these are the conditions next year getting close to the vote, this is going to be a very, very close vote. Obviously, the Democrats are hoping that Obamacare is going to finally straighten out. At the moment, it appears to be a pretty competitive race.”
Ciruli said he always felt Buck was the frontrunner among the GOP candidates.
“Having run last time and he lost with a few mistakes at the end, it was only 30,000 votes,” Ciruli said. “He obviously established name identification around the state, and that helped him in this poll. I think he has to convince people that he is a different candidate this time, and that he can win this. I think he’s got to convince some of the money people, both nationally and here, that he is a safe bet. I think there’s some proving he has to do to people, rank-and-file Republicans and big-investor Republicans to convince them that he’s the man that can go the distance.”
Ciruli added, “He’s got a little bit of baggage from last time, and he’s got to overcome that by running a good campaign, finding some good, early supporters and finding some money. All those things would become indicators that he’s back and that he knows what he’s doing.”
Rick Palacio, Colorado Democratic Party chairman, said that Colorado’s electorate is nearly equally divided between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
“So it’s no surprise that a year before an election, polls highlight the fact that Colorado is a swing state,” Palacio said Friday. “But in addition to a divided electorate, polling shows, and past elections have proven, that Coloradans have no interest in reckless and irresponsible Tea Party conservatives. So if Ken Buck gets his party’s nomination, voters will be reminded that he is wrong for Colorado. Buck is reckless on fiscal policy, backward on women’s health and out of touch on immigration.”
He added, “Coloradans expect solutions. They want pragmatic, bipartisan leaders like Sen. Udall, which is why Mark is ahead of all of his potential opponents in these polls.”
Don’t tell that to Owen Loftus, who was Buck’s communications director in 2010 and currently holds the same position for the Colorado Republican Committee.
“Sen. Udall is in trouble. He was the deciding vote for Obamacare when it passed the Senate in 2009, and he made a promise to people that they could keep their health care and it turns out that none of it’s coming true,” Loftus said Thursday. “I think from the party’s perspective, we’re thinking that all of our candidates are in a good position to take on Sen. Udall. We think we’re going to have a Republican, no matter who it is, in the Senate come next year.”
Buck said Obamacare, rising energy costs, the federal government shutdown and the fact that they don’t play well together have hurt all incumbents in D.C.
He said it’s still early in the race, though.
“It’s definitely too early to say three months from now the numbers are going to be one way or the other, but it clearly shows that he is vulnerable,” Buck said. “The issues that people in Colorado care about right now are the healthcare issues and the energy issues and the vulnerability that we have put our economy in, and for Mark Udall to be able to change the subject I think is going to be much more difficult this time. I was diagnosed with cancer in March of this year, and Obamacare is a very personal issue to me and I think there are a lot of other people that can relate to that in this state.”
Ciruli said Buck’s story about beating lymphoma cancer will endear him to voters.
“I think overcoming any difficult life story is something that goes to your character and gives you something to talk about besides politics,” Ciruli said. “You give Mr. Udall a chance and he’ll tell you about mountain climbing. Frankly, being a prosecutor is OK but having some other character-defining activities is good.”
Buck said as far as name recognition, he said that having run in 2010 helps.
“I think people know when I ran in 2010 I was talking about the problems with Obamacare and the problems with the broken energy policy, the problems with the stalemate in Washington, D.C., and now folks can see the results,” Buck said.
He said he’s been campaigning around the state on weekends with his wife, Perry, and the reaction has been positive. He said they will campaign in every county in Colorado.
“People will get to know me much better this time than they did in 2010,” Buck said. “The activists on the ground are very energized. There isn’t as much of a public display as there was in 2010 in terms of the Tea Party rallies, but the energy level is every bit as great.”