Ken Buck is often called a tea-party favorite. But he's no longer the Tea Party Express's favorite.
The conservative group endorsed Buck back in 2010, when he beat the GOP establishment candidate in Colorado before narrowly losing the general election. But the organization announced that in the 2014 Colorado Senate race, it's backing his primary opponent Owen Hill—and has launched a $100,000 ad buy in support of the state senator.
But this goes beyond endorsing a different candidate. While tea-party groups often get tagged as not caring about electability, the television spot and announcement make it clear they want an electable candidate without baggage.
"Time to start the Senate race with a clean canvas," says the ad's announcer, as pictures of Hill get colored in on a canvas.
The ad's reference to a "clean canvas" is a shot at Buck, who blew a potentially winnable Senate race in 2010 with his controversial comments comparing being gay to alcoholism. The group's press release announcing the endorsement contains more veiled swats at their 2010 choice. "Over the past two election cycles, Hill has outperformed all other Republican candidates in Colorado," says Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer. "He is not only a principled conservative, but also he has shown an ability to put together competent campaigns and win even where others have lost."
And Kremer told the AP that Buck is "a good conservative" but that the group thinks Hill "is the one who can win this race."
Buck is currently the front-runner in the primary and leads the field. Another Republican running, state Sen. Amy Stephens, has gotten some buzz as a potentially strong general-election candidate, but her fourth-quarter fundraising numbers were dismal. Hill is just 31, and serving his first term in the state Legislature. While there's an opportunity for the GOP in Colorado this year—a recent Quinnipiac poll shows Democratic Sen. Mark Udall holding slight leads over his potential opponents—there's certainly a question as to whether the Republicans will have a candidate who can capitalize on the opportunity.