Why Ken Buck Has the Inside Track in Colorado’s 4th District

by Nathan L. Gonzales March 4, 2014 · 9:41 AM EST

For the second time, Republican Ken Buck has failed to become a United States senator from Colorado. But his most recent campaign was not in vain and helped make him the front-runner for a seat in the House.

GOP Rep. Cory Gardner’s decision last week to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall had a domino effect. Buck, the one-time front-runner for the Senate nomination, dropped down to Gardner’s open 4th District instead of challenging the congressman in the primary.

Even though the filing deadline is still nearly a month away, the state party’s process for selecting nominees begins at Tuesday’s precinct caucuses. And since Buck has been working delegates for months in advance of his Senate primary, he starts ahead of any other congressional hopefuls.

The Denver Post recently listed a number of potential candidates, including state Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley; state Reps. Tim Dore of Elizabeth, Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff of Pueblo and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling; Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway; and former state Treasurer Mark Hillman.

Each of them has the initial challenge of playing catch-up to Buck, and some could face longer-term hurdles in the primary. For example, Dore and Navarro-Ratzlaff were just elected to the legislature in 2012 and would likely start with very little name identification in the 4th District. Navarro-Ratzlaff’s legislative district narrowly overlaps with the congressional district east of Pueblo.

At least a couple of GOP strategists believe Renfroe’s past controversial comments about homosexuality could hurt him, even among conservative voters. But Renfroe is believed to have some personal money that could help him pay to gather the 1,500 signatures necessary to petition onto the June 24 primary ballot, instead of getting enough delegates at the mid-April convention.

Even if Buck, who lost a winnable Senate race in 2010, is the GOP nominee, the race does not start as a great opportunity for Democrats.

Right now, this is the type of district that longtime Democratic incumbents, such as Utah’s Jim Matheson and North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre, are leaving — rather than Democratic challengers looking to take them over. Mitt Romney won the 4th District with 58 percent in 2012, John McCain won it with 56 percent in 2008, and George W. Bush took 54 percent in 2004. If Democrats were to win, it would likely be the most Republican district in the country held by a Democrat.

Democrats need to find a strong candidate soon if they want to have any chance. Former Rep. Betsy Markey, whom Gardner defeated by more than 10 points in 2010, shows no signs of giving up her bid for state treasurer. Before Gardner’s decision, the only Democrat was Vic Meyers, and he had $1,453 on hand at the end of December, compared to $262,000 for Buck.

For now, Colorado’s 4th District remains Safe Republican, according to Rothenberg Political Report.