LOVELAND, Colo. -- Pat Bellamy, a Loveland Republican, wore a T-shirt to Ken Buck's victory celebration Tuesday night that read "November is Coming." She's a member of the local Glenn Beck-inspired 9/12 Project, and said illegal immigration is a big issue for her.
"He took a stand on illegal immigration," she said of the new GOP Senate nominee. "That really spoke to a lot of us, that somebody would stand up and rule by the Constitution."
Buck echoed Bellamy's concern -- and her T-shirt -- in his victory speech.
"We asked Republicans and Democrats, please protect our border," he said. "The funny thing? They heard us. But they ignored us. You know what folks? In November, we will not be ignored anymore."
Anti-establishment candidate Buck rode a wave of voter dissatisfaction to a narrow victory Tuesday, buoyed in large part by the Tea Party movement.
Surrounded by a few hundred supporters cheering him on in a hotel ballroom, Buck said he looked forward to his race against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, who also won a hard-fought primary
Tuesday. In addition to pressing the illegal immigration issue, Buck said he'll attack Bennet's votes in favor of health care and financial reform, among others.
"Get a good night's sleep," Buck told the crowd. "Because for the next 83 days, we are going to unite the Republican Party; we are going to reach out our hand for those independent voters and Democrats who are fed up with Washington ignoring them."
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Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, considered the favorite early on, called Buck to concede shortly after a Denver television station called the race. Buck wouldn't say whether Norton offered her support, which he'll need in the November contest.
The Weld County district attorney acknowledged the Tea Party role in his victory, as did other supporters.
"I think the Tea Party movement was huge, but they're obviously part of an overall grassroots movement that got this done for us," Buck said. "I think that we will bring that constitutional message to the broader electorate in the upcoming election."
George Nowell, a longtime Republican activist from Longmont, predicted the Tea Party will bring long-term change to the GOP. "They're the ones who, in terms of voting right now, in terms of execution, are pulling the wagon."
Buck almost dropped out last year, when Norton entered the race with the perceived backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Instead, encouraged by Tea Party supporters and other conservatives, he stayed in.
At one point last fall, only two people were paid to work for Buck's campaign. Walt Klein, a consultant for the campaign, noted that Buck's run was an effort fueled by the candidate.
"Ken Buck set a wave in motion, the likes of which this state has never seen," Klein said. "This is the first campaign I've ever been involved in where the major challenge of the campaign has been to catch up with the momentum of the candidate."
Much like their Democratic counterparts, Norton and Buck drew few and narrow distinctions on issues. Buck opposes abortion in all cases, while Norton would make exceptions to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest. Norton emphasized the war on terror in a prominent television ad
"The differences between Jane Norton and Ken Buck were minuscule compared to the differences between Ken Buck and Michael Bennet," Buck said Tuesday.
While Buck aims to point out those differences, an independent group called Campaign for a Strong Colorado announced a Wednesday news conference to point out how Buck is "too extreme" for Colorado.
Where Buck and Norton truly parted was in outside support and fundraising. Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose name drew jeers at the May Republican nominating assembly, campaigned with Norton Sunday. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina appeared with Buck at an event in July.
With almost $2.9 million through July 21, Norton raised more than double Buck's take. But Buck relied on television ad buys from outside groups, including the Campaign for Liberty and Americans for Job Security. That's when the race started getting nasty, with Norton suggesting in one ad
that Buck wasn't "man enough" to take her on himself.
Then there was the boy vs. girl
back and forth, in which Buck suggested voting for him because he didn't wear high heels, while Norton suggested voting for her because she was a woman.
Buck referred to that remark in thanking his wife Tuesday night.
"It's not easy to love a candidate," he said. "It's especially not easy to love a candidate who has a cowboy boot in his mouth."
As the party wound down, Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams arrived to congratulate the nominee.
"It's a testimony to Ken's tenacity," Wadhams said. "He earned this the hard way."