Republican senatorial candidates Ken Buck and Jane Norton are fighting over Sarah Palin in the strangest kind of way.
During a Monday radio appearance on KRAI radio in Craig,, Buck seemed to say Palin would be "rude" if she endorsed Norton during a Saturday event at Magness Arena -- the same day as the Republican state assembly, which Norton is skipping. Today, however, Buck's spokesman says the candidate's comments were misinterpreted and he's looking forward to her Colorado stop. Listen to the clip below to decide for yourself.
Meanwhile, Norton fired back during a KRAI visit earlier this morning, calling Buck "the ultimate insider" and dodging a question about whether she should ask Palin to delay an endorsement so as not to overshadow the convention.
The program at the center of this spat is The Cari and Rob Show, hosted by Cari Hermacinski and Rob Douglas. Buck spent on hour with the pair yesterday, making news when he responded to Douglas's questions about a post by Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and Buck supporter. Erickson had heard that Palin is planning to endorse Norton during her Saturday stop at Magness. He views that as a mistake. Here's the key passage:
Ken Buck has the grassroots in his corner. It's readily apparent across the state. Consequently, Jane Norton is going to bypass the Republican Assembly this weekend and try to collect signatures to get on the ballot. But make no mistake about it, to change the narrative about Norton bypassing the grassroots, she is vying to get a Palin endorsement late this week.
I'm sure Governor Palin does not realize what is going on, given that many of us looking at Colorado had to have explained to us the intricacies and timing of the Republican Assembly, but it is this weekend, Jane Norton is skipping it, and her campaign is, I'm told by multiple people including reporters in Colorado, setting Governor Palin up for a very awkward moment -- an event designed to put the spotlight on Jane Norton competing with an event designed to showcase the Republican grassroots in Colorado.
Adding fuel to this fire was a Wall Street Journal post reporting about a Palin appearance at a breakfast for the Susan B. Anthony List, a political-action committee that promotes women candidates who oppose abortion. Norton was in attendance when Palin announced, "Look out, Washington. There's a whole stampede of pink elephants."
In reference to this remark, Buck told Douglas, "Frankly, I don't really want to be a pink elephant. I'd be happy to be a bright red elephant." (Click here for the complete clip.) Then, when asked if it would be untoward for Palin to endorse Norton on the same day as the assembly, he said:
"It is rude, it is frankly rude. People have worked for months to get out the caucus vote and to work toward this assembly. It's unfortunate, if in fact that's true, that someone would try to steal the show. Sarah Palin could come any day of the week after that and they can have their day in the sun. But for all those folks that have worked so hard to be heard and participate in the caucus process, I think it's only fair that it would be their day."
The Associated Press interpreted that as Buck saying Palin would be rude simply for speaking in Colorado on the same day as the assembly. But Buck spokesman Owen Loftus begs to differ.
"That story was inaccurate, and they sent out a correction on it," he says. "Ken never said Sarah Palin was rude for coming to Denver on the night of the convention. He actually has a ticket for that event and he's been looking forward to attending it for several weeks. What he said was rude was if Sarah Palin or anyone else came to town to have an event that directly conflicted with the state party while we have thousands of grassroots activists in our base who worked hard to get elected to choose their candidates for a host of other offices."
Loftus adds that "the sponsors of this event [namely KNUS radio] worked with the state party to have the event after the convention, to ensure that delegates can attend and see Governor Palin speak."
As such, Loftus believes the entire spat is "a non-story. Norton's campaign is playing politics again. They've ignored the grassroots up until this point, and they're trying to do anything possible to damage Ken's credibility with them" -- such as hinting that he disrespected Tea Party heroine Palin.
Regarding the possibility that Palin will formally back Norton, Loftus says, "We're focused on getting the nomination of the Republican base here in Colorado. That's the only endorsement Ken wants at this point."
In response, Norton spokeswoman Cinamon Watson says Buck "wasn't welcoming to Sarah Palin. But she's a great voice for the conservative movement, and we're happy to have her in town."
Watson stresses that she has received no confirmation that Palin will endorse Norton on Saturday, nor are there current plans for Norton to appear with her on the platform. She concedes that Palin's "pink elephant" speech shouldn't be construed as her formal endorsement of Norton.
And Norton herself? She spent about ten minutes with KRAI's Hermacinski and Douglas, beginning just over an hour ago -- and in a sometimes rambling defense, she didn't skimp on the vitriol, even comparing Buck to Barack Obama at one point.
"Look, it's just like President Obama does," she said, after listening to the Buck audio clip linked above. "Ken Buck criticizes everyone who's not with him. Listen, Sarah Palin is a great hero of the conservative cause. I have no doubt that they didn't check to see what's going on in Colorado in terms of the state convention. I think it's one of those things where she's going to be in at the same time. I don't believe anyone's trying to steal their thunder. This isn't about one person. It's about taking our country back. We're thrilled to have Sarah Palin in Colorado anytime."
After that, Douglas read Norton excerpts from the aforementioned Erick Erickson post. She reacted like so:
"What I believe is happening, Rob, is they're trying to do some damage control... I was pleased and proud to receive the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony PAC. It's a pro-life women's PAC. We were at a celebration of life put on by the Susan B. Anthony PAC, and Sarah Palin was the speaker. She talked about a herd of pink elephants, and she mentioned me as one of those people... I think they're just assuming she is going to endorse me. I don't make that assumption. I would love to have her endorsement..."
Back to Buck:
"Give me a break about this Ken Buck thing. Talk about the insider. He has received over a million dollars from D.C. in the form of a shady 527. He has more D.C. money pouring into him and his campaign than any of the other campaigns. I think we need to set the record straight."
However, Norton subsequently switched gears, maintaining that "we shouldn't be killing each other. We should be united as a conservative front trying to knock off the likes of Michael Bennet, who's out of touch with Colorado voters because of his big-spending policies."
At that point, Hermacinski mentioned Norton's own Washington connections, including her link with John McCain, for whom she served as Colorado campaign manager, and her enormous fundraising advantage over Buck. Given that, how could she brand Buck the "ultimate good ol' boy," as she had in an earlier statement about the Palin kerfuffle?
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"Ken Buck is the ultimate insider," she repeated. "He's an elected official traveling around the state on the taxpayers' dime, while I have left my job in the private sector. He's received over a million dollars, way more than I have, through a 527. That's what has people so irritated."
As time wound down, Douglas referred to a comment from a 9.12 Project representative included in a Denver Post article about the Buck-Norton-Palin situation. Why not request that Palin wait to endorse her, to avoid a potential for embarrassment on Saturday?, he asked.
"I don't have the ability," Norton insisted. "I am not reaching out to Sarah Palin. I am not doing that. Frankly, I would welcome an endorsement from a wonderful, strong, conservative hero of our party. But the fact of the matter is, I am not taking the spotlight off Ken or anyone else." Besides, the assembly is "not a coronation of Ken Buck," she allowed. "It's a process" -- one that she said she respects even though she opted out of it.
In other words, she's not being rude.