By the Numbers: How Ken Buck will lose

Ken Buck was not supposed to have to work this hard.

Buck looking uncomfortable with the flag. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Colorado’s 4th Congressional District was designed to be red, one of three safe GOP districts in Colorado to complement three safe Democratic ones. Ken Buck has cruised to victory on this conservative turf in elections that the state Democratic Party barely contested. In 2014, Buck overpowered a hopelessly outspent Vic Meyers, winning by a 36 point margin. In 2016, a similarly cash-strapped Bob Seay fared little better, with Buck winning by 32.

In fact, Ken Buck won in 2014 and 2016 with larger margins than any other Colorado GOP member of Congress. In a normal year, the Democratic establishment would continue to be scattered and isolated and again put up little fight in CD4. In a normal year, Ken Buck would get to coast.

But 2018 will not be normal.

In 2017 the national GOP — Ken Buck among them — rallied around a mentally incapacitated President, supported ripping health care away from millions, and increased the deficit to give a tax cut to the rich. We have taken Buck to task on these issues in the past, and will continue to in the future.

But rather than get lost in the narrative, today let’s focus on the numbers.

In this bizarre upcoming election year, is it really possible for Democrats to take back CD4?

Ken Buck will be contested

Ken Buck coasted to a 32 point win against Bob Seay, a populist with a devoted support team but no funds. But 2018, the dollar gap will be considerably smaller: Eleven months before the general election, the Democratic Party’s two main primary contenders, Karen McCormick and Chase Kohne, have already raised $141,000, nearly doubling the $74K that Bob Seay raised over the entire election cycle. [These numbers have been updated as of 2/13/18.]

Karen McCormick and Chase Kohne have raised more in the last few months of 2017 than Bob Seay did during the entire 2016 election cycle. Their combined total nearly matches that of Ken Buck, who was fundraising the entire year.

Buck has never been as secure as his +32 margin

Because of funding limitations, voters never got to know Bob Seay or Vic Meyers. But Hillary Clinton had no problem with name recognition, so the presidential margin of victory gives a better sense of what a contested election will be like. Here, Buck’s support looks less formidable than his top-line numbers imply.

In 2016, with the nation’s vote nearly evenly divided, Trump defeated Clinton in CD4 by a 23-point margin. While this remains a formidable lead, it is considerably less daunting than Buck’s 30+ point wins would indicate.

And even this represents an underestimate of potential Democratic support — the Clinton campaign had a small footprint in CD4. Our field representatives tell us that campaign staples such as signs were not available in eastern Colorado.

Such problems will not be repeated in 2018, for a simple reason:

Even +23 is a dramatic overestimate: A Democratic wave is building

Democrats just took back an Alabama Senate seat, a state where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 28 points. The impossible suddenly became possible.

Mid-term elections swing against the incumbent’s party even in the best of times, but Trump is a historically unpopular president. The ‘generic’ ballot — which asks which party a person is likely to support — right now dramatically favors Democrats. The margin has been consistently 10–13 points over the last several months, rising more or less in tandem with Trump’s tweets, and falling whenever Trump quiets down. It also nicely predicted Democratic victory margins in the recent races in Virginia and New Jersey.

This generic ballot is more polarized than in any election in the last 30 years — larger than Obama’s wave victory in 2008, or the Tea Party rebellion in 2010.

Generic Democrat versus Generic Republican; May 2017 up to the present day.

Some simple math says that if CD4 has an expected tilt of 20–23% towards the GOP, but we are in a +10–13% Democratic environment, then all other things being equal, Buck should be expected to win by about 10 points.

A 55–45 victory sounds like a potentially solid margin. But all other things are not equal — that 10 point margin can easily be squandered.

R+10 is not enough: Buck really isn’t that good a candidate

Buck has a host of economic beliefs that should trouble even his conservative rank and file supporters, including:

  • Privatizing social security
  • Eliminating health care
  • Giving huge tax cuts to the rich despite penning a book on the importance of a balanced budget

Yet it was Buck’s stand on social issues that were his undoing in his loss to Michael Bennet in 2010.

For example, as district attorney in 2006, Ken Buck declined to prosecute a date rape case, telling the Greeley Tribune “A jury could very well conclude that this was a case of buyer’s remorse”.

In the 2010 Senate primary, Buck told Republican voters that they should vote for him over his primary rival Jane Norton because “I do not wear high heels”.

On Meet the Press in 2010, Buck insisted that homosexuality was a choice, “like alcoholism”. He supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Buck lost to Michael Bennet in the 2010 US Senate race, a year when the Tea Party rebellion gave a generic Republican a +10 advantage. Any generic Republican should have taken that election walking away, but Buck failed.

Buck lost on the votes of women, who preferred Michael Bennet by 17 points.

Buck has squandered a 10 point advantage before, and he can do it again.

The craziness is not even close to over

CD4 is a footrace.

Buck’s 30+ point victories have been against candidates that were unfunded, without the sustained backing of a movement. The 23 point margin that CD4 should afford a Republican will likely be halved by a building Democratic wave. And Buck has proven a devastatingly weak candidate, someone who may not be up to being challenged directly.

Ken Buck has the potential to become CD4s very own Roy Moore (a man that Buck embraced as a candidate). Buck is shameless, out of step with the times, and unable to recognize his own limits.

To win in CD4, Democrats thus have to do two things, and two things only.

First, we have to fund the Democrat who challenges him. In a year where fundraising records are being broken for Democrats all over the country, we have an opportunity to take a stand in CD4 and all across Colorado, and turn our state Blue.

Second, Democrats have to outhustle their opposition.

The GOP has not simply turned the keys to America over to corporations — we expect that of them. They supported a pedophile as a candidate for Senator. They have turned the keys over to a President who is showing every sign of both psychopathy and dementia. They would be perfectly fine to see democracy itself crumble, as long as it is their guy at the helm.

What’s the opposite of inspirational?

Republicans may still stand by their man, but even die-hard conservatives are beginning to second guess the goals of their party. The tax bill for example, had <30% support. Meanwhile, Democrats are motivated for change. The generic ballot is just one indicator. Money is also flowing stronger and faster to Democrats. It is possible that as business flees a scandal-plagued administration, the GOP will be wounded both financially and politically moving into the election.

It is time to press the advantage, to make Republicans spread their resources thin, and to lift every progressive candidate. 2018 will be seen as the year that the conservative 4th Congressional District came into play. It will be the year that formerly outnumbered progressives show their strength.

But it will require our united effort to turn this tide. We will not win simply because we are right, or we are more in touch with the people. We will win because we fight harder, and longer, than Ken Buck can imagine.

2018 will be the year that people are given an honest, even choice on who represents them. And 2018 will be the year we show Ken Buck the door.

This is the first article in a series detailing how to get the Democratic candidate to 51% of the vote in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District. Stay tuned!