Contenders look for edge in tight race


The issues

Here’s a quick look at where U.S. Senate candidates Michael Bennet, the Democrat incumbent, and Republican Ken Buck stand on several key election issues:

Health care

Bennet said proponents “did a terrible job of defining the nature of the problem,” contributing to public opposition to the national health care measure that Congress passed this year. He acknowledged in an interview with The Daily Sentinel that the process by which the measure was approved was flawed, but he maintained the result was worthwhile.

Issues that came to light after the measure was signed, such as its requirement that any business file a Form 1099 with the Internal Revenue Service, will be rectified in the next Congress, Bennet said.

Buck called “corrupt” the process by which health care legislation was passed, citing promises to wavering senators from Kansas and Louisiana. He wants the act repealed and the process started anew.

Natural gas and the federal government

With efforts afoot to use natural gas as a transportation fuel, Buck said he harbored doubts about government subsidizing the development of natural gas filling stations.

Buck said he wants the government out of the private sector, in part because the speed of change exceeds the ability of the government to keep up.

“We continually create new technologies that the government can’t anticipate,” Buck said. “My gut tells me government should stay out.”

Still, Buck said, there might be circumstances in which the federal government could become involved.

Bennet praised the idea of converting transportation fuels from gasoline to natural gas as suggested by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens and said the energy industry is dominated by entrenched economic interests “and not by entrepreneurs.”

The federal government should look to the tax code to encourage development of natural gas as a fuel, Bennet said.

Social Security

Younger workers probably should expect to work longer before they qualify for Social Security benefits, Bennet said, adding he opposes privatization.

“We’re going to have to have a conversation about raising the retirement age,” Bennet said.

The nation also stands to save billions of dollars by better administering Medicare and Medicaid, Bennet said.

People approaching retirement age and those already receiving benefits should be left alone, Buck said.

Younger people, particularly those roughly 35 to 55, should expect to see benefits linked more closely to life expectancy, Buck said.

Though he has opposed it in the past, Buck said it might be time to consider means-testing, meaning the wealthiest workers might contribute to Social Security, but receive lesser or no benefits.

Social Security should offer the opportunity to people entering the work force to enroll in a Social Security-plus program, in which they could invest in approved programs that the federal government couldn’t use for its own purposes, Buck said.

Taxes and revenue

“I’m a capitalist,” Bennet said, drawing a distinction between his years working at an investment company and Buck, who worked for a short time at a Greeley construction company between stints with the U.S. Department of Justice and being elected as the Weld County district attorney.

Tax credits for research and development and other targeted measures should be used to encourage economic development, Bennet said, adding he would split from his party by suggesting that every time a new regulation is enacted, one or maybe two should be dropped.

“We’re not going to tax our way out of this,” Bennet said.

The weight of taxation and government regulation already is onerous, stifling investment and freezing business owners in place pending the next new tax or regulation, Buck said.

The consequences of stagnation go beyond economic issues, Buck said.

“The greatest moral challenge is to maintain social mobility,” he said.

Loosening the grip of government on the economy will have costs, such as the national endowments to the humanities and arts, as well as subsidies for Amtrak, he said.

The two candidates for the U.S. Senate seat from Colorado, despite multiple similarities, couldn’t see the world more differently.

Michael Bennet and Ken Buck both are attorneys, both hail from outside Colorado, both have Ivy League backgrounds, both worked in Washington, D.C., for the federal government, and both sought out Colorado as adults for their homes.

Bennet, a Democrat, and Buck, a Republican, both fended off primary challenges to win their respective parties’ nominations for the Senate, and each has ties to his party’s recent administrations.

Their different perspectives aside, each man has moved slightly, grudgingly, toward the other as the election approaches.

Bennet, who resisted taking any position on the Employee Free Choice Act since his appointment to the Senate in 2009, said last week in Denver he opposed it “as written,” and in Grand Junction he said he had spent little time on the issue, considering inquiries on the matter “hypothetical” questions as he expected there to be no vote on the issue.

Tea party sentiment

President Barack Obama listed the measure as a priority. Republicans call the measure “card check” and say it would take away secret ballots in unionization elections, allowing work forces to be unionized if a majority of employees signed cards for unionization.

Buck, who played to tea party sentiment opposing health care legislation sought by Obama and congressional Democrats, told The Daily Sentinel this month that parts of the law should be saved, in particular prohibitions against denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, but that the entire health care package should be scrapped and its parts reconsidered piecemeal.

In terms of money, the differences between Buck and Bennet are just as stark.

Bennet collected $7.7 million for his first-ever political campaign, easily running laps around Buck’s $1.2 million.

Buck, however, on Friday boasted he would report third-quarter donations of more than $2 million at the end of the month, leaving him with $1.14 million in cash on hand.

Bennet’s campaign said it did even better, collecting $2.7 million in the third quarter, bringing his collections to more than $10 million.

Each candidate claims strong support from individuals, with Buck attributing 91 percent of his campaign chest, $1.1 million, to contributions from individuals, and Bennet claiming 78 percent of contributions, or $6 million, from individuals.

Buck has pumped $104,800 into his own campaign, while Bennet has spent $3,570 on his.

That’s not all, of course.

Parties’ spending

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee augmented Bennet’s spending with $4.4 million, buying six general-election television ads attacking Buck, according to Congressional Quarterly.

The committee on Thursday unveiled a website,, one of many it set up to take aim at Republican Senate candidates across the country.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also leaped into the fray, spending more than $1.6 million on three ads targeting Bennet, according to Congressional Quarterly.

And then there are outside groups pitching in to attack Bennet. American Crossroads, which was organized by Karl Rove, an adviser to President Bush, has spent $2.5 million, according to Congressional Quarterly. Other organizations, notably Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth, have pitched in on Buck’s behalf.

Even without Bennet’s lopsided money advantage, “This was always going to be a competitive race,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst in Denver. “This one is very much in play.”

Bennet is trying to win the seat in his own right after being appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the term of Ken Salazar, who resigned to become the secretary of the Interior Department.

With the money has come the electoral fight, and Bennet has pitched it as a battle to paint Buck as an extremist.

“That’s the playbook for this year,” Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli said.

The problem is that the “extremist” label isn’t working as it has in the past.

“What is being called extreme has shifted the line toward the extreme side,” Ciruli said. “Frankly, a lot of people today say you have to start someplace. When you’re laying off teachers, the idea of abolishing the Department of Education doesn’t seem so extreme anymore.”

It could be that the “extremist” tag is keeping the race close, Sondermann said.

Reassuring voters

Buck, who has been battered about his position on federal spending, including comments about reducing or eliminating the departments of energy and education, has his own hurdles to clear, Sondermann said.

“He needs to provide voters reassurance that he’s philosophically conservative, but in the mainstream” with the likes of former GOP senators Wayne Allard, Hank Brown and Bill Armstrong, and former Gov. Bill Owens, Sondermann said.

“Ultra-tea-party types might be able to win in other states,” but not necessarily in Colorado, he said.

Bennet has his own hurdles, and a major one is convincing men to buy into his candidacy.

Polling so far suggests Bennet’s 5-percentage-point lead over Buck among women is more than countered by Buck’s 15-point lead among men, Sondermann said.

That’s a gap Bennet will have to bridge in order to hold his seat, Sondermann said.

Both candidates have visited Mesa County on multiple occasions to campaign, and each said he will visit once again before the Nov. 2 election.

Buck is scheduled to speak Thursday at Mesa State College along with Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Buck said he will screen a new television advertisement at that time.


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