South Carolina U.S. Senator and national conservative-movement lawmaker leader Jim DeMint officially announced he was endorsing Weld County DA Ken Buck in the Colorado Republican primary contest aimed at taking Sen. Michael Bennet’s seat this November. DeMint said he had been watching the race closely for months but that he had waited to see how “Coloradans would speak.”
“I waited to see if the grassroots embraced him. That was my cue,” he said referring to Buck’s victory in the caucus and the post-caucus support building in the state. “His opponent [Jane Norton] dropped out of the convention that’s such an important part of the process… The people most engaged in this race are looking at Buck. I want to facilitate what’s already happening on the ground. I’m here to ask grassroots voters for their help. I am looking to shine a light on Ken Buck.”
DeMint compared the Colorado Senate race to the Florida Senate race, where Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio is now running ahead of popular Gov. Charlie Crist. DeMint has latched on to Rubio as the kind of new Republican that could reform what he sees as the big-spending degenerate party. The two politicians have been on and off touring together.
DeMint told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that, like Rubio, Buck had embraced the energy and passion of the Tea Party activists who have “changed the dynamic” in primary contests all across the country. “Ken has won that attention and support. He has been working the grassroots all over the state,” he said.
DeMint also compared the trajectory of the Buck campaign to the one he ran in South Carolina that placed him in the Senate.
“Ken is already polling above the officeholder [Bennet]… It reminds me of my own polling. His name recognition is low compared to his opponents, so there’s only room for him to go up.”
“It’s time to take back our country,” said DeMint, employing the Tea Party rallying cry. “We’ve got to have an earthquake election now,” he said, “to stop the spending and the government takeovers… I’m honored to endorse Ken and help him raise money.”
Money is a large part of the significance of the DeMint endorsement for the Buck campaign. Buck has struggled to raise funds. He netted a mere $40,000 in the final quarter of 2009 and has yet to announce his first quarter totals for 2010. Norton, meanwhile, with her close ties to national party leaders and corporate lobbyists, has had no problem raking in cash. She announced that her campaign pulled down $816,000 so far this year. Estimates put the cost of the race at between $8 million and $12 million.
Even though Buck may post low totals again, his victory in the caucus straw poll in March, his now-solo flight into the Republican convention next month and the endorsement of grassroots popular figures like DeMint and RedState’s Eric Erikson– DeMint’s partner in the campaign-bankrolling Senate Conservative Fund– will surely continue to fuel the grassroots momentum that has taken Buck this far despite push back from major party machinery– or what Buck campaign manager Walt Klein called Norton’s “grasstops campaign.”
Buck said that national pundits are focused on the money but that “comparing resources to resources is a better equation.” He said his campaign matched his opponent’s campaign in energy and volunteers, for example.
“Ken is frugal,” said DeMint, seeking to turn an obvious disadvantage into an advantage. “You look at his cash on hand and you’ll see it’s high relative to the cash he’s collected.”
Buck and DeMint also addressed the complaint that the South Carolina Senator was an outsider coming in and changing the dynamic on the ground, a complaint aimed frequently at Norton– that she was handpicked by Washington players rather than Colorado voters.
“It’s not the same at all,” said Buck.”It’s a matter of bringing a national grassroots organization to a local grassroots movement.”
“At the Senate Conservative Fund, we focus on just a few races and we’ve been very successful,” said DeMint. “We know that every vote in the Senate counts and everything we can do to bring in like-minded senators matters.”
Wednesday Buck also scored the support of a group called Americans for Job Security, which joined the list of outside conservative groups, like the Red State blog and Campaign for Liberty, that have decided Buck is the best candidate in the race. Americans for Job Security has paid for a TV campaign advertising their support. The ad is pegged to tomorrow’s “tax day” Tea Party protests and has cost the group $400,000. It urges voters to call Buck and “tell him [to] keep fighting for taxpayers who’ve had it with big government spending and debt.”