- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ken Buck, the Republican candidate in Colorado for a U.S. Senate seat, was forced early in a nationally televised debate Sunday to defend criticism that he was abandoning the “tea party” and the outsider stances that helped him win the GOP nomination.

He didn’t need to, standing his ground on homosexuality, the war in Afghanistan and other key election issues during a debate with Sen. Michael Bennet, the Democratic incumbent, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Buck said he believes homosexuality is a choice because “you can choose who your partner is.” However, he also acknowledged that sexual preference is determined at birth, “like alcoholism and some other things.”

His statement was in sharp contrast to President Obama’s comment last week during a town-hall-style meeting. “I don’t think it’s a choice,” the president said. “I think people are born with a certain makeup.”

Mr. Bennet and Mr. Buck, Weld County district attorney, are locked in one of the closest high-profile Senate races of the midterm election season. A Rasmussen Reports poll last week showed Mr. Buck falling several percentage points but still holding a lead of 47 percent to 45 percent.

The roughly 20-minute debate was remarkably civil, considering that the candidates have been attacked relentlessly for past statements, highlighted in millions of dollars worth of negative TV ads.

Both agreed on several issues, including that the tea party movement is not infiltrated with racist members.

“I haven’t seen it in Colorado,” said Mr. Buck, who hardly exchanged glances with his rival. “Folks who hold those views are asked to leave.”

Said Mr. Bennet, “I haven’t see a lot of that, either.”

They made their remarks after statements by Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, who reportedly said the “tea party” movement had deep ties to extremist groups.

On Sunday, Mr. Buck attacked Mr. Bennet for supporting health care reform and for saying he took a “tough vote” in approving the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan, then saying the country now has trillions of dollars in debt and “nothing to show for it.”

Mr. Bennet said he has “fought back” against the president when his decisions have not helped Colorado, but the stimulus money kept the country from going into a depression, though such efforts were “hardly enough.”

Amber Merchant, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said after the debate that Mr. Bennet “had a chance to stand up to his party leaders in Washington on these critical issues. But when it mattered the most, he simply rubber-stamped President Obama’s reckless spending agenda.”

The most pointed attack against Mr. Buck came from moderator David Gregory, who said voters think he has backpedaled — or “Buckpedaled” — on such key issues as Bush-era tax cuts and his criticism of the 17th Amendment, which allows voters, not state legislatures, to elect U.S. senators.

Mr. Buck said he was not in favor of the amendment, as he has clarified many times, and that the tax cuts should be paid through reductions in federal spending.

“If Coloradans need any more proof that extremist Ken Buck cannot be trusted, they got it today,” said Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Two months after saying he didn’t think the Bush tax cuts needed to be paid for, Buck confused everybody today by taking a completely different position.”

Still, Mr. Buck appeared to undo himself in several instances.

When attempting to say that preserving Bush tax cuts will expand the economy, he at first said they would “grow government” — a slip of the tongue but likely a big one for the fiscally conservative tea party movement.

On his handling of a 2005 date-rape investigation, Mr. Buck said he didn’t regret using the term “buyer’s remorse.”

He said he spoke compassionately to the female victim and explained why prosecutors could not try the case, including that some of the evidence appeared to show she consented to the sexual encounter.

He had given several reasons to local newspapers about why the case couldn’t be tried, including that “a jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse.”

Mr. Buck said Sunday: “I don’t regret the way I talked to her. I think it is important that a prosecutor approach a victim with a certain amount of reality, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with this victim. I didn’t blame her at all.”

The Republican said there should be no artificial deadlines for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. “I don’t believe in telling the enemy when we should withdraw,” he said.

Mr. Buck said that beyond politics he would like to become a better golfer, despite criticisms of Mr. Obama’s frequent golf outings.

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