State Rep. Richard Holtorf plans to decide in the next month or so whether to mount a primary challenge against five-term U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Akron Republican told Colorado Politics.
Holtorf said in an interview that a series of “big mistakes” by Buck prompted him to put together an informal exploratory committee to help determine if it makes sense to take on the incumbent, a former chairman of the Colorado GOP, in the reliably Republican 4th Congressional District.
“I’ve been an ally, but this man has lost his way,” said Holtorf, a 29-year Army veteran and third-generation cattle rancher and farmer. “He’s like a stray cow that’s lost his way; he’s out there on his own, in the wrong part of the pasture, in my humble opinion.”
Describing himself as someone who is “in agriculture pretty deep and play politician as a hobby, mostly,” Holtorf said he supported Buck’s runs for Congress until last year, when he was publicly neutral but voted for Buck’s primary challenger, Robert Lewis, a last-minute candidate who lost to Buck by nearly 50 percentage points.
“You are supposed to be — and were at one time — a huge influencer in Colorado Republican politics,” Holtorf said, addressing Buck. “Why are you not investing your time, your treasure, your energy and your capital in Colorado, trying to rebuild and shape the party in a direction that rebuilds our House? there’s none of that, zero. He’s AWOL.”
A spokesman for Buck’s campaign declined to comment on Holtorf’s complaints or potential challenge.
Comparing Buck to former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who lost a primary last year after turning on former President Donald Trump, Holtorf said he’s considering a run because Buck has lately been “placating” political opponents, rather than fighting for the conservative brand.
“Liz Cheney was not a friend of the Republican Party, and Liz Cheney got what Liz Cheney deserved,” Holtorf said. “Wyoming helped her pack her suitcase and go home. Right now it appears that it’s about time for Ken Buck to pack his suitcase, just like Liz Cheney.”
A founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Buck is often ranked among the chamber’s most conservative members but has lately drawn criticism from fellow Republicans for opposing GOP leadership.
Holtorf called it unacceptable that Buck doesn’t wholeheartedly back Trump, citing Buck’s statement in June that he won’t support the former president’s bid for reelection if Trump is found guilty on felony charges alleging he illegally hoarded classified documents and blocked government efforts to retrieve them.
“Guilty, not guilty — it’s not your place to decide. Get out of the way. Don’t be a Liz Cheney,” Holtorf said. “That bothered me. Still bothers me. Whether you love Trump or hate Trump, that’s irrelevant. He’s the sitting president.”
Holtorf said he’s also bothered by Buck’s vocal opposition to the House GOP’s impeachment inquiry aimed at President Joe Biden.
“We can waste our time on issues that are not important, or we can focus on issues that are,” Buck told MSNBC last month.
A member of the House Judiciary Committee and a former district attorney and federal prosecutor, Buck has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe numerous House committee investigations have produced any evidence of wrongdoing by the president, though he insists that he’s open to impeaching Biden if evidence emerges.
That isn’t good enough for Holtorf.
“If there’s nothing there, Ken Buck, then the inquiry will show it,” Holtorf said. “He’ll be exonerated, and we’ll be done talking about it.”
Holtorf said he’s been particularly irked lately by Buck’s regular appearances on mainstream and left-leaning cable news channels.
“Me turning on the TV and seeing my congressman on CNN and MSNBC, pandering to the Democrat left media — I don’t want my congressman doing that,” Holtorf said.
Even more grating, Holtorf added, was a recent New York Post story that he said described Buck as “trying to hustle for a job as a Republican pundit to work with CNN.”
Citing unnamed Republican sources, The Post reported that Buck has been “exploring his options” and is considering leaving Congress to take a job with a cable network. The story quoted Buck saying it would be “great” to join CNN, though Buck later called back to make clear that he had also been in talks with conservative outlets, including Fox News Channel and Newsmax.
“I don’t now any Republican that would’ve gone to work for the far liberal left media to try to help them build ratings,” Holtorf said. “It doesn’t help our cause. You’re playing to the national media, and you’re selling out for big dollars to be a media spokesperson, and I think everyone’s seen that.”
The 64-year-old Buck has long maintained that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in Congress, and over the years he has openly discussed retiring or running for office closer to home, though Buck said earlier this summer that he intends to run for reelection next year.
“Ken made it clear in the article that he has no immediate plans to leave Congress,” a congressional spokesman told Colorado Politics in response to an inquiry regarding the New York Post report.
“He is honored to represent the people of Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and will continue to fight to rein in spending, secure our border, combat crime in our communities, and support domestic energy production.”
Holtorf isn’t the only Republican circling Buck’s seat, which encompasses most of Douglas and Weld counties and the Eastern Plains.
GOP operatives tell Colorado Politics that numerous politicians have been sounding out the possibility of running if Buck decides against seeking another term, including former University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, who lost a bid for governor last year; former U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Flora; and, former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who made unsuccessful runs for governor and attorney general in 2018.
But Holtorf said his decision whether to run won’t depend on Buck’s plans.
His exploratory committee includes people knowledgeable about “national-level politics … who work in campaigning, fundraising, are aligned with the business of politics, if you will.”
Holtorf declined to identify the committee’s seven members, saying he wants them to be able to offer advice free of outside pressure, but said the group will perform “an objective analysis of my viability as a candidate in CD 4, including electability and ability to raise funds, testing the water to see if this is something feasible at this time.”
It isn’t a done deal, he insisted.
“Ken Buck is an incumbent, in his (fifth) term, has built quite a war chest, has a lot of institutional allies, and I’ve been in state politics for four years,” Holtorf said.
He added that he’s only ever had to raise campaign funds in the $50,000 range, a far cry from a congressional run, which he said “starts at $250,000 and goes north of a million — that’s the financial reality of this.”
Holtorf, the GOP’s House minority whip, said that if he winds up in Congress, he plans on “bringing the same thing to Washington, D.C., that I brought to the state Capitol.”
Said Holtorf: “This decision is going to be what’s best for Colorado, because I am a leader in the state House, I am an influencer in the state House, I run the floor for the Republicans. We bring the heat.”
Holtorf represents House District 63, which overs the northeast corner of the state, spanning Logan, Sedgewick, Phillips, Morgan, Washington and Yuma counties and part of Weld County.
According to an analysis by the independent redistricting committee, the seat Holtorf represents turned in the strongest Republican performance of any district in the state over the last decade, favoring top-ticket GOP nominees by an average margin of nearly 54 points.
Appointed to the seat in late 2019 to fill a vacancy created by the death of incumbent state Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, Holtorf easily won election in 2020 and cruised to a second full term last year without Democratic opposition.
Holtorf retired in 2016 as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves after 11 years active duty and 18 years in the National Guard and Reserves, including two combat tours in Afghanistan.
“As a senior military leader in the Army, I know what good leadership looks like; I know what bad leadership looks like,” he said. “If it smells like horse manure, it might be horse manure on the bottom of your boots. Are you gonna keep walking on it?”
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