When Rep. Ken Buck and his Democratic challenger, Ike McCorkle, debated two years ago, the night ended with Buck accusing McCorkle of campaigning with a leftist and McCorkle asking the congressman about a T-shirt he wore and demanding he denounce white supremacy.
This time, the two men vying to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District — which encompasses much of eastern Colorado — debated at a retirement community, with no live streaming or recordings.
It was, in Buck’s estimation, a more civil and productive affair than the showdown two years ago, a sign that the pair — current and likely future foes — have moved onto more substantive ground.
” I didn’t try to summarize his views of the world, and he didn’t try to summarize mine,” said Buck, who’s running for a fourth term. “We just both talked about why we think our role – our policy differences are favorable for the voters.”
McCorkle, a father of four and twice-enlisted Marine who rejoined after Sept. 11, said he thought he did “miserably” in that first debate, back in 2020. This time, he said, he felt much more confident.
That’s true for how he thinks he’ll fare in November, too, but he faces a difficult road: The district he hopes to represent is solidly conservative, and Buck, a former prosecutor, beat McCorkle by more than 23 points in 2020. The only Democrat to win the seat in recent memory was Betsy Markey in 2008, a blue-wave election.
Buck praised McCorkle for having improved his message and approach over the past four years. He’s running for Ike now, Buck said, rather than just against Buck. But he wasn’t unduly concerned: Asked how he was feeling a month out from Election Day, Buck chuckled.
“About my race? In the 4th Congressional District? Pretty good,” he said.
McCorkle, who said one of his top priorities is rural reinvestment and addressing climate change, said he figured he’d lose in 2020, and he views his bid to unseat Buck as a “multi-cycle” project that won’t end on Nov. 9. Every time he runs, he said, he makes more connections and, he hopes, flips more votes.
“I think it takes time and effort and hard work to get in front of people and have those tough conversations and win those hearts, minds, trust and confidence and votes and flip a district,” he said.
While McCorkle works to build name recognition, Buck already has it: He was the district attorney in Weld County before he won the seat in 2014, after Cory Gardner jumped to the Senate (Buck unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2010). He’s cruised to re-election repeatedly and has outraised opponents in nearly every election. He’s done so again this year: Buck entered the summer with $543,000 in the bank, outstripping McCorkle, who fell just short of $200,000.
“There’s no question that Ken Buck will be re-elected in November,” said Kristi Burton Brown, the chairwoman of the Colorado Republican Party, a position Buck previously held. “He’s also a very popular congressman overall in CD-4. He’s been there for quite a while, and represented I think the interests of that district very well, whereas Ike McCorkle has been a part of some very, very liberal, out-there Democrat organizations.”
Buck said he planned to continue his focus on pursuing anti-trust regulatory efforts against Big Tech companies. It’s become a recent cornerstone of his, and he’s partnered with fellow Coloradan and Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse on a package that passed the House of Representatives in late September. He describes himself as “100% pro-life” on his website, and his other key issues include “absolute” support for the Second Amendment and addressing immigration, inflation and crime.
He repeatedly pledged to work with Democrats on legal issues, like blocking forced arbitration for sexual harassment complaints, and praised his partnership with Neguse.
McCorkle’s website lists 20 policy planks to his campaign platform, ranging from support for affordable housing, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and campaign finance reform. He told The Denver Post that he believes all campaigns should be publicly funded and that his biggest priority is reinvesting in agriculture and rural Colorado.
Buck’s critics cast him as an extremist who has drifted further to the right since his initial election eight years ago. Jason Bane, a Democratic political operative, said Buck had been a standard conservative Republican before 2020 and that he’d slid since. Morgan Carroll, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, agreed and said Buck’s career had spiraled “from law enforcement to yes-man for lawlessness and refusal to speak against the effort to violently overthrow a US election.”
Buck took issue with the suggestion that he supported the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, which he called a riot. He cast his decision to vote against certifying the 2020 election results, and his decision to sign on to a Texas lawsuit that further challenged them, as an effort to ensure that state legislatures and secretaries of state were following the Constitution. He called for more transparency in the voting process to support public trust.
It would take “something unusual” for the vote to go against Buck in November, Bane said. McCorkle, he said, was doing the best he could with what he had.
“He’s filling a void,” he said, “and I think doing his best to challenge in a district that just, frankly, isn’t winnable for Democrats.”
McCorkle was undeterred and didn’t blink when asked if he’d run again in 2024, should he lose this time around.
“We’re in it to win it,” he said. “Until we win it.”
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