Meet The CO GOP’s Nominees: Two Newbie, Gaffe-Prone Tea Partiers

August 11, 2010 1:58 p.m.

Colorado Republicans sure can pick ’em. Voters thwarted the party’s plan in both the Senate and gubernatorial primaries yesterday, dismissing the establishment party’s choices in each race, and making tea party-backed newcomers Ken Buck and Dan Maes their nominees.

Democrats seem to have gotten their wishes with both Republican nominees. Tom Tancredo’s disruptive presence in the gubernatorial race means Republicans will need to broker some kind of deal if they hope to have any chance against John Hickenlooper. But it appears Maes is unlikely to play ball. Meanwhile, Buck brings paltry fundraising numbers and a loose mouth into his battle against Sen. Michael Bennet’s formidable war chest and national Democratic support.In the gubernatorial race, Maes ran as a Tea Party-friendly business candidate, arguing that the state needed a governor with executive experience — like himself. His campaign bio touts how his “natural leadership always led him to management roles” and how he graduated college “in just 4 years.” So it was a surprise when he released his tax returns to a Tea Party website (not to The Denver Post, though, which had asked for them), and they revealed not a titan of industry, but a guy struggling to earn an income above the poverty line.

What’s more, Maes has a problem with paperwork. A few weeks ago he was slapped with $17,500 in fines for campaign finance violations (including allegations that’d he’d inappropriately paid himself $42,000 in mileage reimbursements). Last week, the Post compiled a list of fines and infractions Maes has accrued in his personal and short political life. The Post reported that, among other things, the Colorado Secretary of State “listed him as delinquent on filing the paperwork for a business he owned that produced educational videos on how to maintain good credit.”

And Maes has been revealing a Crazy (TM) side in recent days. He’s made national headlines for his suggestion that a Denver public bicycling program is some kind of UN plot — and that Democrat John Hickenlooper is somehow complicit in it. And at a campaign event last week, Maes pledged that, if elected, he’d save money by firing 2,000 state employees “just like that.” Except it’s not even clear he’d have the authority to do so.

None of this, however, was enough to hold back Maes. He surged in the polls going in to the primary, thanks to a plagiarism scandal that destroyed the campaign of party pick and up-to-the-almost-very-end front runner Scott McInnis.

Still, Tom Tancredo’s third-party run casts a shadow over Maes’ win. Maes is assumed to be less likely to drop out of the race (while primary night rumors suggested the state party was courting Re/Max founder Dave Liniger to run if Mcinnis won and saw the writing on the wall). Maes spoke out against Tancredo in his victory speech, calling him the “800-pound gorilla in the room we must address.” Polls show Tancredo and Maes splitting the GOP vote — and virtually assuring a Dem victory.

On the Senate side, the Tea-Party backed Buck beat out former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who had the support of the party establishment, most notably John McCain, and a large fundraising advantage.

The TPM Poll Average shows Buck ahead against Sen. Michel Bennet (D-CO) in the general election, but Buck boasts even less big-time political experience than the incumbent, and he trails badly in fundraising. Buck had spent $820,000 on his campaign through July 21, and had $438,000 cash on hand, while Bennet reported $1.8 million cash on hand on the same date, having already spent $5.8 million.

Over the last few weeks, Buck committed a series of gaffes in short succession. In mid-July, he was caught on tape responding to Tom Tancredo (yes, him again) saying at a rally that Obama is a greater threat to the country than Al Qaeda. “I can’t believe that guy opened his mouth,” Buck said. He was later forced to concede there was “truth” in what Tancredo said. A few days later, after Norton ran an ad daring Buck to be “man enough” to run his own attack ads, Buck answered a question about why people should vote for him by saying, “Because I don’t wear high heels.” Enter YouTube. Finally, a few days after “high heels,” a Democratic operative recorded Buck saying “will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera?” Norton hopped to the Tea Partiers’ defense, and Buck said, by way of explanation, “There are times of frustration where I vent.” With the general election starting, someone should tell him to stop venting to Democrats.

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