- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Onetime U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck is likely headed to Washington after winning Tuesday night’s Republican nomination to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, a vast energy-producing and agricultural region stretching across the state’s eastern Plains.

Once a political cautionary tale for losing what Republicans considered a winnable 2010 U.S. Senate race, Buck handily defeated three competitors for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Cory Gardner.

The fortunes of Gardner and Buck have been intertwined this year. Buck was planning on running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, but dropped out and ran for Gardner’s seat instead. Gardner, seen as a better candidate by national Republicans, is the GOP’s nominee against Udall.

“I’m very excited about Cory Gardner being our next U.S. Senator, and I’m very excited about going to the House of Representatives,” said Buck, favored to win the general election in the heavily Republican district. “I’m going to do my best to reduce spending and government overreach in our lives.”

Colorado’s hardest-fought Republican congressional primary was in the 5th district, centered in Colorado Springs. Rep. Doug Lamborn defeated retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn by 5 percentage points.

Lamborn, seeking his fifth term, struggled to raise money. Rayburn publicized a fundraising visit to Colorado by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was ousted this month by a little-known challenger in Virginia. Lamborn remains the favorite against Democrat Irv Halter, also a retired Air Force major general, in the overwhelmingly Republican district in November.

In the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, stretching from Pueblo to the western Slope, Rep. Scott Tipton easily defeated peach farmer Dave Cox.

Buck was the front-runner in the 4th because of his name identification, a legacy of his 2010 race and his decade as the top prosecutor in Weld County. He defeated state Sen. Scott Renfroe, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and Steve Laffey, a businessman and recent Colorado transplant who is a former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island.

The 4th district encompasses substantial energy and agricultural production, and it runs from the Nebraska border to the New Mexico line. Republicans outnumber Democrats by almost 2-1.

Buck lost his 2010 challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet after being painted as too extreme on social issues. But he was criticized in the primary for not being conservative enough on abortion rights because he distanced himself in 2010 from an effort to give a fertilized egg the same rights as a person.

Buck said that he is strongly opposed to abortion rights. “There’s not a lot of room to Ken Buck’s right,” he quipped Tuesday night.

None of the state’s three Democratic congressional representatives faced a primary challenge. Nor did Rep. Mike Coffman, the lone Republican to face a serious general election challenge in November against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

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