Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck got creamed on the numbers this week. He drew $40,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to GOP frontrunner Jane Norton’s $550,000 haul. Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet pulled in a cool $1.1 million.
“That’s today’s story,” said Buck campaign manager Walt Klein. “That’s one piece of the puzzle. Look what’s happened since the first of the year. Follow the candidate on the trail, watch him in front of people and you see a story of a candidate gaining momentum. Ken Buck is the underdog in this race and he’s proud of it.”
Klein gets paid to spin, of course, but part of the reason Buck’s low contribution totals surprised political watchers yesterday is that the campaign has seemed to gain traction recently. As Norton has struggled to demonstrate to skeptical activist voters here that she is neither the Washington-insider and special-interest candidate her resume suggests she is nor the Tea Party panderer the media has described, Buck has caught the eye of national grassroots and anti-Washington groups.
The libertarian Virginia-based Campaign for Liberty bought $350,000 worth of air time in Colorado this month to broadcast a commercial it made extolling Buck as the best choice in the race. Bloggers at the Colorado conservative grassroots site Rocky Mountain Right speculated that Buck may be winning support from the the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by RedState’s Erick Erickson and Sen. Jim DeMint.
Klein says that the energy fueling the right-wing blogosphere is reflected on the campaign trail.
“All of that is happening now and for a good reason,” he said. “At this point we’re seeing activist voters, the media and political observers beginning to just now draw a sharper focus on the candidates. That’s what’s changing for us. People are really comparing the candidates.”
Still, many believe it costs an estimated $10 million to run a winning U.S. Senate campaign. Norton told radio listeners last week she thought the candidates for Senate running in Colorado would spend “$8 million to $10 million on all sides before Election Day.” According to his Q4 report, Buck has only roughly $200,000 on hand.
Klein is taking a long view. He worked on campaigns for Republican U.S. Senators Bill Armstrong, Wayne Allard and Hank Brown and said the fundraising record so far reflects “typical grasstops versus grassroots” campaigns. He said Norton entered the race essentially as the fourth quarter was beginning in October, siphoning off big donations and racking up big numbers. “The grasstops went to Norton,” he said.
But the profile of donors to the two campaigns from Q3 are distinct, he said, and he predicts that when the full Federal Election Commission documents come online in a few weeks they will tell a similar story.
“Forty percent of Norton’s first quarter donations in Q3 was raised outside the state– mostly lobbyist donations, the DC crowd. Compare that to Buck’s first quarter. He raised about $337.000. She raised around $300,00 in the state her first quarter. His donations are more than 95 percent from Colorado. The fourth quarter the percentage was pretty much 99 percent. She pulled down 60 percent support here. Now we’ll see a repeat [in Q4]. That’s my prediction.”
Norton campaign spokesperson Nate Strauch told the Denver Post Tuesday that the campaign was “extremely happy with where we are with fundraising right now.”
Tom Wiens, a wealthy businessman who lives on a ranch in Douglas County, is also running for Bennet’s seat. Wiens reported raising $725,000, although he hasn’t elaborated on how much of the money came from his own personal accounts.
In the past year, Buck has been a lightning rod for controversy in Weld County, where he’s the District Attorney. He was the man behind two high-profile prosecutions. He filed hate-crime charges against the killer of transgender teen Angie Zapata, irking conservatives, and he spearheaded a hardline identity theft probe that targeted thousands of undocumented workers and was later ruled unconstitutional.
Buck considered dropping out of the Senate race in the fall when Norton entered with clear support from the national party. Republican Aurora City Council-member Ryan Frazier did drop his bid then, opting instead to make a run at Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the Seventh District.
Given the vast sums it takes to run a U.S. Senate campaign, the Colorado Independent asked whether there was any talk at the Buck campaign about the candidate likewise switching races. Would Buck drop his Senate bid to run for Rep. Betsy Markey’s seat in the Fourth District, whereBuck is well known and well liked?
Klein laughed. “No way,” he said.
“Listen, one thing I know is that there’s a path to victory in this race. You have to get on the ballot. You have to win the primary. Only then do you get to run against the Democrat. Candidates that forget there are three steps or get them mixed up are not successful.”