DENVER — Republicans selected Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck on Tuesday to be their nominee for congress in a district representing the eastern third of the state, making it highly likely he will go to Washington, D.C., to replace Rep. Cory Gardner.
The race for Gardner's seat, which the incumbent vacated to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, was one of three Republican congressional primaries Tuesday. The most competitive was in the Colorado Springs-centered 5th Congressional District, where Rep. Doug Lamborn was fewer than 3,000 votes ahead of his challenger, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn, with 60 percent of precincts reporting.
The state's three Democratic congressional representatives did not face primaries. Nor did Aurora Rep. Mike Coffman, the lone Republican who has a serious general election challenge, from former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff.
Statewide turnout Tuesday was expected to be low. As of Monday, about 312,000 Republican voters had cast ballots. There are about 1.1 million registered Republicans in Colorado.
Buck had been running for U.S. Senate until Gardner entered that race. Buck then dropped out and ran for Gardner's seat, becoming the prohibitive favorite. He had unsuccessfully run for U.S. Senate in 2010.
Buck quickly drew competition from 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. But he defeated them soundly.
"I'm going to do my best to reduce spending and government overreach in our lives," Buck said in an interview Tuesday night.
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, and Buck is in a strong position to win November's election against Democrat Vic Meyers.
All four candidates tried to prove their conservative bona fides.
Buck raised the most money and had run statewide against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010. He lost that race 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.
"We need candidates who will stand firm for what they believe," Renfroe said in an interview. His campaign aired ads accusing Buck of "flip-flopping" on abortion.
Buck said in an interview that he is strongly opposed to abortion rights. "There's not a lot of room to Ken Buck's right," he quipped Tuesday night.
Kirkmeyer emphasized her farming background, while Laffey touted his support from former Godfather's Pizza CEO and onetime presidential candidate Herman Cain.
In the 5th Congressional District, Lamborn struggled to raise money, and 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. The winner will be the favorite against Democrat Irv Halter, a retired Air Force major general, in November.
In the 3rd District, which runs from Pueblo to the western slope, Rep. Scott Tipton handily defeated his challenger, peach farmer Dave Cox.