Analysts: Colo. Dems May Seek to “Buckify” Santorum Candidacy

February 25, 2012
By
GOP hopeful, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick SantorumGage Skidmore /Free Photos

DENVER, CO – Ken Buck is seeking a third term as Weld County District Attorney, but that’s not why his name is drawing national attention in 2012.

In 2010, the Republican Buck was defeated in his bid for the Senate after Democrats tarred him as an extremist on the abortion issue. Michael Bennet’s victory in Colorado represented one of the few bright spots for Democrats in what was otherwise an overwhelmingly  Republican-Tea Party year.

The tactic was so stark–and so successful–that it quickly entered the political lexicon. To “buckify” a candidate means to paint him or her as a radical on hot-button social issues, particularly abortion.

Any Republican candidate risks being “buckified,” but especially those known as outspoken pro-lifers. With Rick Santorum leading the field of Republican presidential hopefuls in some national polls, politicos say that Democrats may be setting the stage for a “buckification” if the former Pennsylvania senator wins the nomination.

“Every candidate has to be smart enough to see it coming because I think it is the playbook,” said Debbie Brown, director of the Colorado Women’s Alliance and former Republican campaign strategist. “A candidate like Santorum who talks so much about social issues is particularly vulnerable to those attacks.”

Mitt Romney? Not so much. “Romney has lots of issues to worry about, but I don’t think he’s seen as extreme on social issues,” said Brown.

Indeed, the strategy probably never gets off the ground if Romney or Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee, said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.

“The only person it’s going to work with is Santorum,” said Ciruli. “He’s so strongly identified with these issues.”

Republicans are also worried that Democrats may be trying to expand the playbook by adding contraception to the mix, a spectre raised by pundit/campaign mastermind Dick Morris after the New Hampshire Republican debate in January.

Morris accused moderator George Stephanopoulos of being a “paid Democratic hitman” after he repeatedly questioned Romney on whether the states can ban contraception, which up to that point had not been a campaign issue.

Romney called it an “unusual topic,” adding that he would “completely oppose” efforts to ban contraception. He also called the line of inquiry “silly.”

Then the Obama administration put the subject back on the front page in February with its health-care mandate on contraception. Although President Obama was heavily criticized for infringing on the religious freedom of the Catholic Church, Morris said it was a “deliberately calculated move on his part.”

“They want to create the impression that the Republicans will ban contraception, which is totally insane, but they’re floating it out and they’re bringing it out there,” Morris said on the Sean Hannity Show on Fox News. “And this move on Obama’s part was part of injecting that issue.”

Morris said Democrats have upped the ante because they realize that abortion is no longer a guaranteed winning issue for them.

“What Obama is trying to do is replace abortion with contraception as the left-right social divide,” he said in a Feb. 14 video message on his website. “Twenty years ago, pro-life was 10 points less than pro-choice. Now pro-life is 10 points ahead of pro-choice.”

The strategy works because independent voters, who typically decide the outcome of tight races, are typically put off by candidates they see as too extreme, whether on the right or the left, said Ciruli.

“We’re talking about suburban unaffiliated or weak partisans, in particular weak Republicans, more likely women than men, probably with higher education levels and a little less religious,” said Ciruli. “That’s the demographic of people who can appealed to on the social issues and are put off by extremist views.”

At the same time, he said, the approach carries some risk for Democrats, especially if the voters see abortion or contraception as their primary issue.

“Keep in mind that the Democrats cannot be seen as out of the moderate center,” said Ciruli. “The danger for Democrats is that they become seen as the party that lacks moral values.”

 

This post was written by

Valerie Richardson – who has written posts on The Colorado Observer.

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