The Colorado Senate Race

After reading this , this, and especially this by Erick Erickson at RedState, I felt it necessary to write a response. A little background would be helpful first, however.

Over the past decade, Colorado conservatives have taken a beating. In 2000, we held the Governor’s Mansion, the state House and Senate chambers, both U.S. Senate seats, and 5 of 7 House seats. Even so, Colorado’s history includes dramatic swings from Democrat to Republican leadership. Much has been made of Colorado’s Purple State status recently, but in reality it has always been this way.

During that decade, there was a parade of failed campaigns, including former congressman Bob Beauprez (Gov), Pete Coors (Senate), Bob Schaffer (Senate), and even incumbents like Marilyn Musgrave (CD-4) were soundly defeated. This had as much to do with campaign mistakes as it did with the ton of outside money that came to Colorado for progressive candidates and the increasing apathy of conservative voters for the lack of fiscal discipline among GOP politicians both statewide and nationally.

The races for Local, State and U.S. House and Senate seats in Colorado have been interesting this cycle, to say the least. We’ve seen candidates come and go and some switch to other races. I detailed much of this in my Colorado Political Analysis diary that I did for RS back in December. Even since then, we’ve had some changes. Bill Ritter (Gov) is no longer running for re-election, and Diggs Brown (CD-4) has dropped out and endorsed Cory Gardner.

Initially, the CO Senate race was between Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. There were and are some other bit players out there, but they’ve never had a chance to gain more than lower single-digit support from the voters. Frazier was the darling of the Tea Party crowd, and especially popular with small “L” libertarians and many mainstream Republicans. Both he and Ken Buck struggled early on to raise enough funds to get the attention of the national organizations.

Enter rumors about NRSC involvement. Many of us were concerned that they were going to do in Colorado what they had done in Florida with Charlie Crist. Fortunately, after significant backlash from the grassroots in Colorado, they decided to stay out of it. While there have been individual endorsements and fundraising events by members of the NRSC, they’ve been hands-off officially as an organization. Ryan Frazier was eventually convinced to drop his Senate bid and run for U.S. House District 7 against Ed Perlmutter.

Then Norton entered the race, and for a long time it was down to just her and Buck. Tom Wiens recently entered the race, and has pretty much just been using his own wealth to fund himself. He does have enough of a following to play spoiler, and we’ll just have to wait to see how that goes.

This race is really about a single issue, and that is previous support for Referendum C, and how it undermined the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Colorado. TABOR requires a vote of the people before the state legislature can raise taxes. That is, unless you call them fees, or elimination of tax exemptions and get a liberal state Supreme Court to agree with you, but that a discussion for a different time. During Bill Owens’ (Gov) first term, he supported a Referendum that would redirect TABOR refunds due to the people to local schools and state universities. As should have been expected, those funds never really made it to the schools and ended up being used for more government social programs.

Jane Norton was Bill Owens’ Lieutenant Governor during his second [updated] term. As is the case with our President and Vice President who are elected as running mates, so is the case in CO with Gov & Lt. Gov. It should not surprise anyone that she supported his initiative in this capacity. Whether or not she personally supported the idea is certainly up for debate, but she also has a very reasonable excuse for having done so. I’m quite sure that Dick Cheney did not personally support everything GWB did (and has in fact now said so), but you would not have known it by his words and actions during their time in office.

Ken Buck has been using this fact against her, and rightly so, as people will always wonder about her support for it. Buck has the luxury of not having to take a position on it back then, so we’ll just have to take his word for it that he did support it as many other conservatives did at the time. Ken Buck has a campaign consultant that made a lot of money off running ads in favor of Ref. C. Does that implicate him? Josh Penry thinks so. As you can see from my comment on the diary, I also believe the issue is fair game for both sides.

Erick also brought up Norton’s decision to petition onto the ballot, as though this was some sort of second-class way to get there. Norton easily has enough delegates, but is likely just covering her bases. The idea that she’s ignoring the grassroots is inaccurate. My friend and fellow Rocky Mountain Alliance and People’s Press Collective blogger Ben Degrow has interviewed her, as has Ross Kaminsky, and it’s clear she’s been reaching out to the grassroots organizations since she entered the race, though she’s stepped that up a lot more in recent months. She’s also raised a lot more money than Buck, and has the money to cover her bases.

The bottom line is that whether Buck or Norton wins the primary, they have an equal chance of beating Senator Who? in November, and their votes after election will be the same on every major issue as far as we can tell. I believe this race should be left for Coloradans to decide. This race is nothing like what’s going on in Florida, and should not be treated as such. I have no problem with Erick Erickson supporting Ken Buck any more than I do members of Congress endorsing either candidate. Let’s keep this about the real issues though.

The really important elections this cycle aren’t federal ones anyway, at least not here in CO. With re-districting coming up, it’s important that we regain the Governor’s mansion, and at least one of the State chambers, and most importantly send the four Supreme Court justices back to private practice where they won’t be able to legislate from the bench and ignore our State’s Constitution any longer.

If you want to support important candidates and causes in Colorado, support Joshua Sharf for State House District 6. There are other worthy candidates too, in the CO House, and in the CO Senate. Support the Clear the Bench Colorado cause to send those justices home. As for Ken Buck and Jane Norton, I wish them both well, and will be very pleased whoever wins the primary. Then we can concentrate our efforts where it’s really important, and that is to send Michael Bennet back home.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus