By now, you’ve probably read today’s much-anticipated story about an incident in GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck’s record at the U.S. Attorney’s office. The campaign of Buck’s opponent Jane Norton certainly knew about this–we had heard a little about it, and that it was coming; up to and including the muddy resolution that really doesn’t impugn Buck as much as you expect…at least not yet.
Even so, we think there’s a lesson here, as the Colorado Independent reports:
Measured by recent polls and delegate voting and media coverage, Weld County D.A. Ken Buck is now solidly out front in the heated GOP U.S. Senate primary race. In response, his opponent, onetime strong frontrunner and former Lt Governor Jane Norton, has seriously ramped up her attacks. Among the more serious, she has called Buck corrupt and drawn attention to a recent legal complaint that he is in collusion with wealthy donors to circumvent campaign finance laws. She has also drawn on long-simmering rumors about Buck’s tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s office. On a radio show recently, she said he left the office ten years ago “under a cloud of suspicion.”
The Denver Post waded into that cloud with a long piece Thursday for which Buck released the painful details of the “mistakes” he says he made. Now Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak has seized on the serpentine tale of prosecutors and politics and guns and money to call on Buck to step down as Weld County District Attorney and to essentially abandon the Senate race…
Buck is not likely to either step down as District Attorney or shutter his campaign. He, at least, seems to have made peace with the episode and has clearly attempted to make a clean breast of it, talking openly to the Post in detail.
As the Independent’s John Tomasic goes on to explain, it’s not a great story. Buck was convinced that the pawn shop owner in question wasn’t breaking the law, and the case had been shopped without success. Ultimately resulting only in a misdemeanor plea, Buck freely concedes that the episode was a mistake, and that he shouldn’t have gotten involved as a prosecutor in a way that assisted the defense. Buck had declined to prosecute, then had a conversation with the defense attorney where he related disagreement among prosecutors on the case’s strength.
You can imagine the Norton campaign’s delight in publicizing this as widely as possible, but there are many reasons why it probably won’t have a lot of traction. For one thing, nobody was convicted of a major crime, meaning Buck’s original view that the case was weak was borne out. Buck was asked about possible defense attorneys in the case by GOP Sen. Shawn Mitchell.
But the biggest reason why we don’t see this meaningfully impacting Buck’s lead is the simple and honest way that Buck dealt with the story. Unlike the example set by Scott McInnis of running from the press, or Buck’s opponent Jane Norton cowering inarticulately behind spokespeople, Ken Buck was, at least belatedly, as forthcoming about the circumstances of this incident as anyone could ever ask. You can compare Buck’s candidness to, say, Bob Schaffer’s evasion of questions about his dealings with Jack Abramoff, and some might call it a refreshing difference.
(Though we should be clear that while we don’t see this really hurting Buck in the GOP Primary, it could be problematic in the general election).
One more thing: the Colorado Democratic Party did put out a pretty harshly worded release hitting Buck on this story today. There’s nothing overly strange about that, we suppose, Democrats going after a Republican, and you can judge their points on the merits. But as impartial observers we do note the likely motivation for Democrats attacking Buck–a dawning recognition of who they’re more likely to face this fall.