In its Aug. 10 primary, Colorado set up one of the most intriguing U.S. Senate match-ups in the country, which could be a bellwether race for the national midterms. Sen. Michael Bennet must face the curse of Obama-backed incumbents — despite running his first election campaign — against Tea Party-backed Republican Ken Buck, who had suddenly risen to the nomination over the early GOP favorite, former state Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.
Candidates for Colorado’s Senate Seat (six-year term)
Candidate: Michael Bennet
Political experience: Bennet started as an aide to Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste in 1988, and after law school, was counsel to the deputy attorney general during the Clinton Administration. As chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, he helped balance the deficit in the midst of Denver’s biggest recession ever. He then became superintendent of Denver Public Schools in 2005, and served until he was appointed to replace former Sen. Ken Salazar in 2009 when Salazar left the Senate to join Obama’s administration. This is Bennet’s first official election for public office.
According to Bennet’s campaign website, he serves on the Senate Committees for Agriculture and Banking, as well as on the Health, Education and Labor and Pensions committee. In addition, he is part of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Professional experience: From 1997 to 2003, Bennet rose to become managing director of the Anschutz Investment Company. He managed $500 million in investments and restricted $3 billion in debt for endangered companies like Forcenergy, United Artists, Regal Cinemas and Edwards Theaters.
Key issues: Bennet made his mark in economic management before joining the Senate. He has continued that focus by sponsoring S. 3130 (Stop Congressional Health Benefits Act) and S. 3475 (Clean Up Earmarks Act of 2010) In regard to health care, he has also sponsored S. 1293 (Enhancing Child Health with Automatic School Meal Enrollment Act of 2009) and S. 2838 (Rural Health Access and Improvement Act of 2009)
Endorsements: The website Bennet for Colorado touts endorsements from Obama, Rep. Diana DeGette, Clean Water Action and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. According to OpenSecrets.org, Bennet has received more than $1 million from the political committee ActBlue and more than $50,000 from Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Chances of maintaining his seat: When Bennet won the Democratic primary, it was regarded as a rare win for an incumbent, especially one backed by President Obama. But he was appointed to the job two years ago, so his relative lack of experience could help him buck the anti-incumbent trend. Yet according to Rasmussen Reports, Bennet is trailing by three percentage points as of Aug. 30, so he must try to get momentum from his hard-fought primary win.
Candidate: Ken Buck
Political experience; According to Buck for Colorado, Buck worked on the Iran-Contra Investigation in 1986 and became a prosecutor at the Department of Justice the next year. In 2004, he was elected as district attorney of Weld County, Colo. As the DA, he formed the Juvenile Assessment Center to help more than 1,100 kids and families. Like Bennet, Buck has never run for a congressional office until now.
Professional experience: Buck says he has worked as a truck driver, high school football coach, ranch hand, school janitor, paper boy, furniture mover, law professor, prosecutor and businessman in the past. In Weld County, he has served on the board of organizations like A Woman’s Place, North Range Behavioral Health and the Restorative Justice Coalition.
Key issues: Buck’s website lists his opposition of the stimulus bill, tax increases, “big government,” “cap and trade,” illegal immigration and abortion. He supports a strong national defense, better benefits for veterans, the Second Amendment and energy independence — although he says the “cap and trade” bill will not accomplish that goal.
Endorsements: The conservative organization FreedomWorks PAC gave Buck their “Champion of Freedom” endorsement on July 10. He has also been endorsed by the Tea Party movement, but has gotten the bulk of his money in individual contributions. According to OpenSecrets.org, he has received more than $1.1 million from individuals, but only $7,500 from political action committees.
Chances of unseating Michael Bennet: Because Bennet has direct support from President Obama, Republicans and Tea Party organizers will work even harder to get Buck elected. It is already giving Buck an early lead, although the race should be tight up to Election Day. The Colorado election cycle has shifted back and forth between parties, so Buck could ride the tide of a Republican comeback. As of early September, Buck trails Bennet in money, $7.7 million to $1.2 million raised.
Key differences between Ken Buck and Michael Bennet
Buck’s website stated that there couldn’t be a bigger difference between him and Bennet over the “cap and trade” energy bill. Buck also calls for “free market reforms” to fix health care, while Bennet has fought to expand health care and make insurers more transparent. Bennet argues for expanding clean energy, although Buck calls for more drilling and nuclear power.
Last results: The last time this seat was fought for, Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar defeated beer magnate Pete Coors. But it was a see-saw race, with Salazar winning 50 percent of the vote to Coors’ 48 percent. Yet in 2008, Democrat Sen. Mark Udall had a comfortable double-digit win in the other Senate race over former Colorado Rep. Bob Schaffer.
Demographics: According to Infoplease, Colorado is 50.4 percent male and 49.6 percent female. The state is 82.8 percent white, 3.8 percent African American, 2.8 percent biracial and 2.2 percent Asian.