The first days of October were quite distressing for Democrats following the Colorado U.S. Senate race–polls released that week showed a growing lead for Republican nominee Ken Buck, and after seeing a couple of them in succession the press began coalescing around a “Buck pulling away” meme in daily reports. Despite all of the work done by Democrats and their allies to show how Buck had first taken a host of unpalatably extreme positions on a range of issues, then abandoned those positions with breakneck speed after the primary, it looked at the beginning of October as though the strategy to marginalize Buck along with Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, and other “too extreme” Tea party-backed Senate candidates around the country, was breaking down.
One detail hidden beneath the headlines showing a growing lead for Buck would emerge as a game-changer, however, and would shatter the conventional wisdom governing this race at the beginning of October by Election Day. Even though polls of “likely voters” showed Buck with a commanding lead among Republicans, and male voters generally, a consistent gap was solidifying between those demographics where Buck was strong, and his relative lack of support among female voters–as well as slowly-ebbing support from independents. This gap had its origins in Buck’s primary, and among other things a highly regrettable remark Buck had made about the electability of opponent Jane Norton’s footwear.
But in October, a story broke that turned this gender support gap into a chasm.
Keenly aware of the soft spot in Buck’s electability opened by his unfavorable perception by women, Colorado Democrats and their allies mercilessly hammered Buck for his support for Amendment 62, the birth control and abortion ban ballot measure. Video of Buck volunteering unbidden at a campaign event that he opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest formed the basis of millions of dollars in television advertisements. Then in early October, the victim in an alleged case of date rape, a case which Buck had refused to prosecute in 2005 as Weld County DA, came forward and started talking–first to the online Colorado Independent, and then to the Denver newspaper’s Allison Sherry.
The story of this alleged victim shocked the conscience of almost everyone who heard it. The Independent and Ms. Sherry reported on an audio recording, never before disclosed, of Buck’s presumptuous grilling of the victim regarding her motives, bizarrely veering into speculation about an abortion as a reason for her to make a false accusation–all of this after the alleged perpetrator had been recorded by the Greeley Police Department admitting to the crime. At the time of Buck’s refusal to prosecute the case, the victim went to the Greeley press, after which Buck dismissed her allegations to a reporter as a possible case of “buyer’s remorse.”
What became known as the “buyer’s remorse rape case” stopped Buck’s momentum dead in its tracks. Through a combination of unusually rapid pickup from local to national media, and a swift recognition by the campaign of Democrat Michael Bennet that an opportunity to end the race was really presenting itself, Buck was never again able to make an unscripted press appearance without being confronted by his actions and words. Moreover, Buck never gave a response to this story that came close to absolving him, even repeating the “buyer’s remorse” line unrepentantly on national television. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Buck’s response is the sense that he never understood what the problem was.
On November 2nd, in a history-making rebuke that political scientists will study for years to come, the women voters of Colorado explained it to him. In fact, women voters can fairly be said to have been more identifiably decisive in this race than…well, do you have a better example? Ever?
The razor-thin margin of victory that Bennet enjoyed over Buck, driven by an exit-polled 17-point margin for Bennet among women, still required the massive field operation Bennet organized, and all of the other expense that went into this race. But there is absolutely no question that for all the unprecedented millions spent on the Senate race in Colorado, the opening Buck provided Democrats to irretrievably alienate him from women–and women so decisively rejecting Buck in response–is the principal reason why Bennet is now Colorado’s elected junior Senator.