The news that Ken Buck has taken a commanding 53-37 lead in recent polling over Jane Norton in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination was the big story over the weekend. We’re not surprised that Buck is leading Norton at this point in the race (though the 16-point margin is definitely a shock), and if that lead holds up through the Aug. 10 Primary, it could fundamentally alter the Republican Party in Colorado.
A Norton loss would be devastating to two of the main GOP players in recent years: Dick Wadhams and Josh Penry. Wadhams has already been tied by Republicans to national efforts to clear the GOP field for Norton (hell, his new wife was a staffer for Norton’s campaign), and a Buck victory would not only be a repudiation of his leadership, but more importantly, the final stake into the heart of the idea of Wadhams as a strategic genius.
As for Penry, one year ago he was perhaps the GOP’s top candidate for Governor and the oft-quoted Senate Minority Leader who was nationally praised as being among the next round of Republican leaders nationwide. Now? Penry is Norton’s “campaign manager” and primary spokesperson whose main contributions have been trying to pretend that Norton really isn’t losing and that mysteriously unavailable “other” polls actually have her ahead of Buck. Penry was the guy brought in to save the Norton brand, but whether it is his fault or not, the simple fact remains that Norton was in a better position before Penry came on board than she is now.
There’s no question that a Buck victory over Norton in the GOP Primary would fundamentally alter the power structure among Colorado Republicans, but here’s another question: What happens if Buck wins the Primary but loses the General Election? This could be the worst thing that could happen to the Colorado Republican Party, because it would show that while the old way of doing things (via Wadhams and Penry) isn’t working…neither is the new way (Buck and the Tea Party).
And then what?