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Colorado’s GOP on a Roll

With one prominent exception.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By FRED BARNES
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For the moment anyway, the McInnis flap has overshadowed the fierce primary fight for the Republican Senate nomination. Buck, 51, began as the underdog, but two factors have made him a formidable rival to Norton. TV ads by a wealthy Buck supporter—so-called “independent expenditures”—have attacked Norton and touted Buck. And Buck began his campaign months before Norton got in the race, visiting most of Colorado’s 64 counties and often appearing at Tea Party events.

When Norton, 55, decided to run last September, she met with Buck and asked him to drop out of the race. He declined. She’s been endorsed by two of the state’s most popular Republicans, former governor Bill Owens and ex-senator Bill Armstrong. Buck is backed by Republican senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. “When I went around the Senate to talk to senators, his was the only door that was open,” Buck told me.

In precinct caucuses in March, Buck narrowly beat Norton in a straw poll. She chose not to compete in the Republican party assembly, where she would have needed 30 percent of the vote for a spot on the primary ballot. Instead, she collected petition signatures to get on the ballot.

In April, Norton fired her campaign manager, hired Penry, and emerged as a more aggressive candidate. Her new television spot is anything but docile. “Seen those TV ads attacking me?” she says. “They’re paid for by a shady interest group doing the bidding of Ken Buck. You’d think Ken’d be man enough to do it himself.” The Norton campaign, by the way, has accused Buck and the supporter behind the anti-Norton ads of illegal collusion. Buck and Walt Klein, his media consultant, deny the charge.

In a Denver Post poll in mid-June, Buck led Norton, 53 percent to 37. But Norton is counting on the mail-in vote to enlarge the turnout. She’s ahead by nearly 2-1 in the “next ring” of voters who don’t normally vote in a Republican primary, Penry says. “We think we can get to them.”

In truth, both Norton and Buck are good candidates. Both are conservatives. Either is likely to defeat Bennett, a lockstep liberal who has a bitter primary battle of his own against Romanoff. “It’s as bad for Democrats in 2010 as it was good for them in 2008,” says Penry.

Bad enough for McInnis to stick it out, win the primary, and become a viable candidate again? Probably not, but stranger things have happened in politics and often do.

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