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Senate Long Shots Find Success Down the Ballot

Buck, left, ran for Senate in 2010 and lost. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
Buck, left, ran for Senate in 2010 and lost. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Giving up a run for office in the middle of a cycle may seem like admitting defeat, but for at least a couple of candidates this year, switching races may end up being the best political decision of their lives.  

Republican Ken Buck was a Senate loser. The Weld County district attorney lost the Colorado Senate race in 2010 to Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who had been appointed to the seat, in one of most often-mentioned tea party meltdowns in recent history. After taking a cycle off, Buck decided to run for the Senate again in 2014, this time against Democratic incumbent Mark Udall. The Republican was a long shot, at best, in a race that was rated Safe for Democrats by the Rothenberg Political Report /Roll Call, and there wasn’t even a guarantee that Buck would have made it out of the primary.  

So when GOP Rep. Cory Gardner decided to take on Udall, Buck quickly switched races and jumped into the newly-open 4th District. With the foundation Buck’s campaign set during the Senate run and with Gardner’s endorsement for the House race, Buck scared off the biggest potential opponents and won the primary on Tuesday with 44 percent, against three other candidates.  

Now Buck is the heavy favorite in the general election in a district where Mitt Romney received more than 58 percent of the vote in the 2012 presidential race. The Rothenberg Political Report /Roll Call rates Colorado’s 4th District as Safe for Republicans .  

Without switching races, it’s unlikely that Buck would have an office on Capitol Hill next year. The same thing can be said for Iowa Republican David Young.  

Young started the cycle running for retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat. But the former Senate chief of staff was having difficulty gaining any traction in the crowded Republican field, and it was unclear whether Young’s style would limit his appeal in a primary.  

This is part of what Stuart Rothenberg wrote after Young came in for a candidate interview :

The former staffer faces two other formidable GOP opponents — a sitting state senator and a former U.S. attorney — in the race for the Republican Senate nomination. He argues that he has seen big government up close and knows what needs to be done to restrain it. But while Young may know what buttons to push, it’s unclear whether the most conservative elements of the party will find him bombastic enough.

In early January, Young decided to drop his Senate bid and switch races to the 3rd District, where Republican Rep. Tom Latham is retiring.  

Young still started as an underdog in the House race. In fact, he finished fifth out of six candidates in the June 3 primary, with just 16 percent. But because the first place finisher didn’t top 35 percent, the race moved to a convention.  

After multiple ballots, Young prevailed over state Sen. Brad Zaun to secure the nomination . Multiple observers credited Young’s inoffensive campaign and demeanor as a key to winning delegate support as other candidates dropped off.  

Unlike Buck, Young faces a serious general election contest. Democrats believe former state Sen. Staci Appel can pull this district into the Democratic column. The Rothenberg Political Report /Roll Call rate the race as a Tossup .  

But even though Young certainly can’t take the general election for granted, his chances of serving in Congress next year are much greater now than if he had stayed in the Senate race.

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