Colorado’s Republican Senate candidate, under pressure to defend himself against allegations he has abandoned the far-right in favor of appealing to moderate voters, compared homosexuality to alcoholism in a televised debate with the man he’s trying to unseat.
Ken Buck spent much of a debate against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet on NBC’s “Meet The Press” insisting that he hasn’t changed his positions to appeal to moderate voters in a Senate contest that has become one of the nation’s most competitive.
Buck, backed by the tea party, criticized Democrats for capturing “gotcha” moments to portray him as a conservative extremist, saying voters prefer a candid candidate, even if the politician misspeaks at times. But later in the debate, Buck made another remark sure to earn him more barbs from the left.
Asked by host David Gregory to elaborate on a statement he made in an earlier debate about gays in the military, Buck said he believes sexual orientation is a choice.
Buck went on to say, “I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice.”
Bennet jumped on Buck’s remark. “I absolutely believe he’s outside the mainstream of views on this,” said Bennet.
Bennet and Buck are locked in a tight Senate contest that could determine control of the chamber. Most polls show Buck having a modest edge over Bennet, a rookie senator who was appointed to the seat last year and is running for office for the first time.
Bennet has tried to use Buck’s proud conservatism against him, portraying Buck as “too extreme for Colorado” on issues ranging from abortion, which Buck opposes, even in cases of rape and incest, to Social Security, which Buck has suggested should be partially privatized for younger workers.
After the debate, Buck spokesman Owen Loftus said that Buck did not mean to imply with his alcoholism comparison that buck believes homosexuality is a disease.
“Ken was just saying there’s an element of predisposition there and an element of choice,” Loftus said.
Another GOP candidate, Carl Paladino, who’s running for New York governor against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, apologized after being criticized for comments he made about homosexuals.
Paladino railed against gay marriage in a speech to Orthodox Jewish leaders, then called the bumping-and-grinding at gay pride parades disgusting.
Under fire from gay rights advocates, including the Cuomo campaign, he apologized, costing him his support from a leading rabbi.
A Washington-based spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights, blasted the two candidates’ remarks. Paul Guequierre said that gay voters are especially disgusted by anti-gay remarks, given the recent high-profile suicides of gay teens.
“We know that when public figures speak, kids listen. This empowers kids to bully, for kids who are gay to question their self-worth,” Guequierre said of the comments by Buck and Paladino.
During Sunday’s debate, Buck talked about his own gaffes on the campaign trail, especially when he’s been followed for months by a camera-toting “tracker.”
“It is easy when you have a tracker, and you have 100 examples of answers, to use a tape that shows a slight deviation in the answer,” Buck said. “It’s not fair.”
Bennet defended his use of Buck clips in campaign ads, saying, “The flip-flops in this race are unbelievable.”
Bennet was asked about President Barack Obama, who campaigned for Bennet in Colorado earlier this year and praised the Democrat for supporting the $814 billion economic stimulus bill.
As in other states, the stimulus bill and federal spending has figured largely into GOP attempts to unseat Democratic incumbents.
Bennet defended his vote for the stimulus.
“That stimulus package saved us from going into the second Great Depression,” he said.
The “Meet The Press” debate was the Colorado candidates’ sixth and they meet one more time before Election Day. Early voting in Colorado starts Monday.