Ken Buck, Ike McCorkle Hold Rare Colorado Congressional Debate, With A Bizarre Ending

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democrat Ike McCorkle, left, and Republican Rep. Ken Buck.

Three-term Republican incumbent Ken Buck faced off against Democratic challenger Ike McCorkle, an 18-year Marine veteran, in a debate at the American Legion in Elizabeth Friday night. About 35 people tuned in to watch the live stream online. It is the only debate to date between major party candidates in any of Colorado’s U.S. House races this general election.

While Buck and McCorkle agreed on the need to implement term limits for U.S. House members and Senators, there was little other common ground between the two men on issues like health care, the future of energy in the district, the Second Amendment, and the coronavirus response.

Buck has served in the House since 2015 and is also the Colorado GOP State chair. He’s a staunch fiscal conservate, member of the Freedom Caucus, and a strong gun rights supporter. McCorkle is a single father from Parker, Colorado. He said he’s running in this reliably Republican district to ensure a better future for his three kids. 

The biggest difference between the two men is how they view the role of government and the way forward on the coronavirus response. Buck pushed back against any plan that would increase debt or the role of government, while McCorkle saw room for government, especially during a crisis.

A common refrain from McCorkle was “You can’t trust Ken Buck to put a coronavirus relief check in your hand.” He noted Buck’s “no” votes for all of the coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump. McCorkle called the Trump administration’s response to the virus “botched.”

Buck said it is concerning that some counties in Colorado have seen their positivity rates go above 5 percent and he complimented Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for Colorado’s response. Buck called the situation "unfortunate," blaming China for the extent of the virus’s spread and the World Health Organization for "covering for China." He said the best way back for people and the economy was to open up, with precautions.

A screen grab of the debate between Republican Congressman Ken Buck, left, and Democratic challenger Ike McCorkle, right.

When it came to the Green New Deal, in a district that is reliant on oil and gas jobs, McCorkle offered his support, while Buck did not. The Green New Deal is a Congressional proposal to address climate change and income inequality, using significant government funding and regulation.

Buck called the plan a “socialist disaster” that “America cannot afford.” He said it would put 200,000 people in the state out of work. Instead, Buck touted an all-of-the-above energy plan and "letting the market decide" which sources to pursue.

But McCorkle pushed back, saying he wanted the district to avoid the fate of laid-off coal workers in Craig. He argued the fourth Congressional district needs an energy sector that’s more sustainable, and that the Green New Deal would actually expand employment in the energy industry.

The moderator also had the men talk about a current crisis facing the state: wildfires. Buck said the climate is warming but “there’s going to be disagreement” about the cause. Scientists around the world overwhelmingly agree that human activity is the biggest factor causing the climate to change, which has resulted in more extreme weather events. Buck thought that wildfire damage could be mitigated by a return to logging timber, forest management, including controlled burns, and allowing counties to go in and clear brush.

McCorkle shot back against Buck, arguing climate change is "not theoretical" and that the farming and ranching communities of Eastern Colorado understand that. He said the massive wildfires were caused by human activity and the drought conditions in the state.

When it came to health care, McCorkle said it is an essential human right and argued that people should not go bankrupt to get medical care. He supported Medicare-for-all. Buck said, "the government should not be in the health care business."

For the most part, the debate was respectul with the two answering the moderator’s questions and very little talking over one another. And it almost seemed like it would end on a unifying note. McCorkle made his last pitch, saying he was running to serve the people of the district. And Buck talked about finding common ground.

"I hope that whatever the outcome of the election is in November that we all look to a president and find him to be a legitimate president," Buck said. "And, while we may disagree on policies, make sure we come together as Americans and do our very best to solve problems for everyday Americans."

But in the last minute, Buck pivoted to an attack mirroring the larger divisive political discourse running through the country. Buck brought up left-wing comments of violence, and in response, McCorkle tried to talk over Buck and challenge him to condemn talk of violence from the right. As the moderator ended the debate, Buck ignored McCorkle and walked away.

It made for a disconcerting finish to what up until that point had been a debate on issues affecting residents of the district.