Owen Loftus, spokesman for Republican senatorial candidate Ken Buck, was in an odd position: As of a few moments ago, he wasn't sure if his guy had bested frontrunner Jane Norton or not.
"The last numbers we saw were from about 11:25 last night," he says. "I think we were ahead by something like twenty votes. At least that's how I'm remembering it. I'm a little hazy today."
No wonder, given Buck's surprisingly strong performance against a candidate who's been all but anointed as the nominee by the party elite. But while Norton spokesman Nate Strauch offloaded more invective on Democratic opponents than Republican ones as the clock neared twelve yesterday evening, Loftus said Buck is clearly focusing on her.
In Loftus's view, the closeness of the competition, win or lose, "shows that a true grassroots candidate, someone who's running against Washington, D.C. insiders and lobbyists, can still make a showing in Colorado."
Yes, the description above pertains to Norton, not potential general election opponents Michael Bennet or Andrew Romanoff. "She's the insider's choice," Loftus stressed. "She's been having fundraisers with Mitch McConnell and John McCain in D.C., and if you look at her FEC report, you'll see she has a lot of donors from there -- a lot of PACs, a lot of special interest groups and lobbyists."
That's not the case with Buck, but Loftus said he made up the difference thanks to "great support from rank-and-file Republicans across the state. One of the things we've made sure of throughout this process -- one thing Ken made sure of -- is that he wouldn't be outworked by any of the other contenders in this race. He was the first senate candidate to go to all 64 counties. He did that even before Michael Bennet."
Loftus wasn't certain how much of an impact Tea Party and 9/12 groups had on Buck's showing, although he thought their support "played in Ken's favor." And he'll need all the help he can get because "we're still running against the machine, the Washington, D.C., machine. It's going to be difficult, but it's something we're going to continue to work at -- continue to grow our grassroots volunteer base as we move toward the primary."
First, though, the candidates will participate in county assemblies, which get underway starting later this month, with many of the larger ones, including Denver's, taking place on April 10.
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Buck should be buoyed by an increase in financial support -- although Loftus doesn't want to imply that cash will instantly start flying in the door just because he and Norton wound up in a virtual tie. "Lobbyists in Washington, D.C. are throwing fundraisers for this person, and that raises a lot of money," he said. "I think that will be a great way to mobilize our grassroots people. Because it'll take a lot of little checks to add up to one of those big checks she's getting."
With that observation in mind, consider this article from yesterday, published in the National Journal. It reads:
Ex-CO LG Jane Norton (R) leads the GOP field in her bid to face Sen. Michael Bennet (D), but a costly primary is already sapping Norton of much-needed resources as she heads into an early test of strength.
Norton has spent $243K on TV ads since announcing her candidacy, including a recent surge in the run-up to tonight's caucuses. The ads urge GOPers to attend the caucuses which, even though they are non-binding, could serve as an embarrassment if she loses to either of her less-well-known rivals.
That twenty-vote lead Loftus mentioned suddenly looms quite large...