U.S. Rep. Ken Buck was predicting that the 2020 election would be good for Colorado Republicans. He believed that President Donald Trump was poised to make a solid showing in the state and that U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner would win reelection.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the Colorado GOP fell further into the statehouse minority and now has only one statewide elected official — University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl.
“We hoped to have Cory Gardner reelected and we hoped to win one or two seats — pick up a net gain of one or two — in the state Senate,” he said in an interview with The Colorado Sun on Thursday, his first since Election Day. “In that respect, I think it was disappointing.”
Buck, who in 2019 was elected Colorado Republican Party, is now facing pressure from within his party after another disappointing election cycle. But, contrary to a report that he won’t seek another two-year term at the GOP’s helm, Buck says he hasn’t made up his mind on whether to run for reelection to his leadership post.
The Sun spoke with Buck about the Colorado Republican Party’s future, his future and what happened in the 2020 election:
The following interview was edited for clarity and length.
The Colorado Sun: You were really bullish heading into 2020 about Cory Gardner and Donald Trump’s chances in Colorado. I’m curious why you think they didn’t fare better.
Ken Buck: I think everybody understands what happened. We got a pandemic and the economy went south and the president went from having the best possible issue to run on — a strong economy that he could clearly take credit for — and then the pandemic hit and took that issue away from him. And so rather than having a presidential incumbent running in 40 out of 50 states, we had a presidential incumbent who had to figure out the number of states he needed to win. At some point in the fall, Colorado dropped off that list. After that decision was made, it left Cory Gardner and others in Colorado hanging a bit.
I don’t blame the president at all. He has to run a campaign and has to figure out a way to win. But the reality is that they decided to focus less on Colorado and more on Arizona and Florida and Pennsylvania and some other states.
Sun: Do you think Cory Gardner was a casualty of the top of the ticket, then?
Buck: Yeah, I do. I think Cory could have made up four or five points with President Trump if President Trump had run where he had the last time around — where he lost by 4.5 points (in Colorado) — I think Cory Gardner would have been in good shape. I don’t think it’s possible to make up 10, 12 points in a state like Colorado. I think that Cory is a victim of circumstance. He will be back. He just got caught in a bad situation.
Sun: Broadly, how do you think Colorado Republicans did in the 2020 election?
Buck: We hoped to have Cory Gardner reelected and we hoped to win one or two seats — pick up a net gain of one or two — in the state Senate. In that respect, I think it was disappointing. In the respect that we had a lot of people who volunteered and spent a lot of time and others who spent a lot of money, I’m encouraged for the future of the Republican Party.
Sun: Talk to me about why you’re encouraged. What good signs do you see for the future of the Republican Party in Colorado?
Buck: Any time you have a president that you can distinguish your positions from, it is beneficial. I think President Trump was unfairly tagged with the problems regarding coronavirus. Largely this is an issue that has been controlled by governors around the country. I think that blaming President Trump for the response or lack of response is unfair. Now the Democrats have the opportunity to govern and we will have the opportunity to talk about how Republican policies would be better.
Sun: We haven’t heard you or other Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation talk about the outcome of the presidential race in terms of whether you accept that President-elect Joe Biden actually won the election. Do you think there’s still a question or do you think it has been decided that Biden has won?
Buck: I think it is clear that President Trump has certain legal rights and to start talking about President-elect Biden would, really, send a bad signal from a state party chair about those legal rights. Every election has election fraud. I was a district attorney and we had a few dozen cases presented to us every election. Some were prosecuted; some weren’t prosecuted. But there is clearly fraud. The question is whether there is fraud at a level that would change the results of an election. I think it’s fair to allow the court process to proceed. The history in this country of candidates challenging elections in court is long.
Sun: From your vantage point, do you think there was a level of fraud that would change the results of the election?
Buck: I just don’t know. I don’t believe there is that level of fraud in Colorado. We know there has been a lot of fraud in some of these major cities (historically in Chicago and New York). I have no personal knowledge that there is that level of fraud. But I have every confidence that the president will pursue his options and that when those options are complete he will do the right thing.
(Editor’s note: There has been no proof of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. that would shift the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.)
Sun: I read that you are not going to seek another term as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. Can you talk about why you made that decision and whether you’re endorsing anybody to replace you.
Buck: Did I say that?
Sun: That’s what a party spokesman said.
Buck: I don’t have any comment at this point on that.
Sun: You haven’t decided whether you’re going to seek another term or not?
Buck: I sought the chairmanship because I thought it was important to help Cory in this critical election. I think it’s really important that Republicans have a statewide elected official like Cory Gardner who can lead the party. I wanted to do everything I could to help him. I have not had conversations — and, frankly, I have been back in the swamp, involved in the reorganization of Congress — and so I haven’t sat down and thought about it. I certainly did not give (a party spokesman) the authority to talk about whether I’m running for another term or not.
Sun: To be clear: You have not made a decision either way?
Buck: I have not made an announcement about whether I am running for another term or not.
Sun: What happened with the oversight commission that formed to look into the primary controversies in Weld and El Paso counties? It was my understanding that we were going to get some kind of report on those.
Buck: It’s my understanding, also, that you’re going to get a report and I’m, frankly, awful pissed off about it. If you would talk to (former Colorado Secretary of State) Scott Gessler, I would like to know why he’s been sitting on this for several months. It’s absolutely ridiculous. The work of the commission was done months ago. You have several young volunteers who have been accused of wrongdoing. The evidence shows otherwise and I have no idea why that has not been done. I need to have somebody else write this report, evidently, because Scott Gessler can’t get it done.
(Editor’s note: “I am the chair of that commission,” Gessler said Thursday in an interview with The Sun. “The buck stops with me and it is my responsibility. Chairman Buck is not responsible for any delays on that.”)
Sun: Gessler actually suggested that he is interested in running for Colorado GOP chairman. Is there tension there?
Buck: No. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t care who runs, who doesn’t run. I think that there’s a certain political courtesy that you let someone announce publicly that they’re not running before you make an announcement that you are running. But I can tell you that I have nothing personally against Scott Gessler other than the fact that this report is long overdue.
(Editor’s note: Gessler confirmed to The Sun he is “considering” a run for Colorado GOP chairman.)
Sun: There’s been some talk in the party about you running for governor or U.S. Senate in 2022. I may be putting the cart before the horse here, but are you thinking about those at all?
Buck: I don’t think there’s a cart and I don’t think there’s a horse. I don’t know which one you want to put in front of the other. Right now, I am stuck in the swamp, trying to figure out how to get good things done for America. I have not focused on any of the issues you just talked about.