Colorado state Rep. Richard Holtorf announced Tuesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential primary bid against Republican Rep. Ken Buck, a Freedom Caucus member who has improbably morphed into a vocal critic of extremists in his own party. Holtorf may not get his chance to take on Buck, though, as the congressman revealed that same day that he was interested in leaving the House to take an on-air cable news job.

Holtorf, who is the first notable Republican to publicly express interest in campaigning against the incumbent in the 4th District, told Colorado Public Radio he’d make up his mind in December. The state representative took Buck to task for condemning a letter from local Republicans accusing the federal government of violating the rights of Jan. 6 defendants, as well as Buck’s opposition to his party’s fervor to impeach Joe Biden. “Why is he on CNN and MSNBC?” asked Holtorf, “I don’t think the message he is explaining represents the sentiment of the district.”

But voters may soon see a whole lot more of their congressman on one of those networks than in eastern Colorado. The New York Post published a story shortly after the CPR interview went live in which Buck said, “I am interested in talking to folks at CNN and other news organizations—on the, I don’t want to call them left, but sort of center-left—and having an opportunity to do that full-time or do that as a contributor would be great also.”

Buck went on to inform the paper he was also eyeing similar roles at hard-right outlets like Fox News and Newsmax, though he added that he hasn’t decided if he wants to leave the House just yet. And despite publishing a Washington Post piece titled, “My fellow Republicans: One disgraceful impeachment doesn’t deserve another,” Buck also said he hadn’t actually ruled out voting to impeach Biden. “I am not opposed to impeachment, I’m opposed to the impeachment inquiry because I don’t think it gives us any broader authority to investigate this,” the congressman argued.

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Until recently, it would have been tough to imagine Buck speaking out against his party’s far-right elements. Buck, who previously served as Weld County district attorney, first emerged on the national scene as a prominent tea partier in the 2010 cycle when he challenged Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. His hardline rhetoric, however, helped cost his party a pickup during what was otherwise a massive GOP wave.

Late in the campaign, Buck appeared on “Meet the Press” and said he stood by his 2005 declaration that he had refused to prosecute an alleged rape because “a jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse.” He also argued that being gay was a choice. “I think birth has an influence over it,” he said, “like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice.” Republicans quickly responded to Buck’s narrow loss by citing him, along with Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, as a cautionary example of what happens when the party chooses extremist nominees in crucial Senate races.

Unlike his fellow travelers, though, Buck actually had a future in elected office. For a time in 2014, he waged another Senate bid, but then switched places with Rep. Cory Gardner when the latter decided to wage a late campaign against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

Buck decisively won the primary for Gardner’s seat by a 44-24 margin, and he’s never had trouble holding his reliably red constituency. He went on to chair the state GOP ahead of a dispiriting 2020 cycle and has spent most of his tenure as an ardent conservative, though he broke from Freedom Caucus doctrine in 2021 when he became part of the minority of Republicans to vote to recognize Biden’s win.

Holtorf, by contrast, likely has far more in common with most of Buck’s colleagues on the extreme right. The state representative made national news in 2021 when he called a Latino colleague “Buckwheat,” claiming later that he didn’t know of the racist origins of the word. Holtorf again attracted unwanted attention again the next year when he accidentally dropped his gun in the state capitol while rushing to a vote, an episode that one observer called “reckless and scary.”

This story originally said that Buck’s seat is in western Colorado, not eastern Colorado.

Jeff Singer

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