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Ken Buck resigns from Congress, setting stage for special election — and potentially scrambling race again

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck will step down from Congress on March 22, he announced Tuesday, setting the stage for a special election in a year when his expected departure already had set off a race to succeed him.

In fact, voters will get a two-fer — Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday afternoon that he intends to call the special election on June 25, the same day as the Republican primary.

Voters in the Republican-leaning Eastern Plains’ 4th Congressional District could select one candidate for the vacancy and another candidate, from the broader primary slate, as their pick to compete for a full term in Congress in the Nov. 5 general election. Or they could choose the same person for those slots.

Either way, Buck’s announcement has complicated the race for the large field that includes U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a fellow Republican who is seeking to change from her current seat on Colorado’s Western Slope.

His departure also will narrow the already-slim Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

RELATED: U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert blasts Ken Buck’s resignation, says she will skip special election to focus on primary race

Buck, who lives in Windsor, had said in November that he would not seek reelection to the position but would serve through the end of this term. The rare open seat, in a deeply conservative district, immediately drew a frenzy of candidates.

But now, his unexpected resignation triggers a special election under state law.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Colorado’s 4th District in Congress for the past 9 years,” Buck said in a statement Tuesday that did not cite a reason for his decision to step down early. “I want to thank them for their support and encouragement throughout the years.”

Dick Wadhams, a past Colorado GOP chair, said Buck’s resignation was unprecedented in recent state political history. The last time Colorado voters participated in a special congressional election, he said, was after the 1982 death of Jack Swigert, the Apollo astronaut who died shortly after winning election to Congress.

“This is extraordinary,” he said.

Boebert announced in December that she would change districts to vie for Buck’s seat as she faced a potentially uphill climb to win reelection in the 3rd Congressional District.

After this story was published, Boebert released a statement Wednesday indicating that she plans to focus on the primary and won’t seek the Republican nomination for the special election.

Former state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and state Reps. Mike Lynch and Richard Holtorf are among roughly nine Republicans who are running for the seat. Some candidates and campaigns did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday about the shifting dynamics, but Holtorf in a statement called the resignation “another selfish move by Congressman Buck,” one that will “throw this race into confusion.”

In an interview, Holtorf noted that Buck, who formerly led the state Republican Party, would understand how his early departure would cause disarray through compressed timelines, competing caucus processes and voters navigating multiple elections for the same seat.

He said it was unprecedented in modern times to have a vacancy committee nomination and election run near-parallel to the normal election process. He was still determining his own path forward.

“We have to define the pathway this is going to be now,” he said.

Sonnenberg said he planned to seek the nomination for the special election. Still, on X on Tuesday, he said in a post that Buck’s resignation “doesn’t change my race, nor my commitment to proving to (Republican) voters why I am the strongest conservative voice to serve them in Washington.”

The 4th Congressional District stretches across eastern Colorado, from the Wyoming border south to the Oklahoma panhandle, and includes Douglas County in metro Denver. The district is the most Republican-leaning in the state, giving the winner of the June primary — whether or not that person wins the special election — a huge advantage in November.

In the 4th District, several Democrats also are running, and their primary also is on June 25.

For the special election race, the Democratic and Republican parties will convene vacancy committees in the coming weeks to nominate candidates to replace Buck for the remainder of his term. That could put each nomination in the hands of a few dozen party faithful. Unaffiliated candidates would be able to petition onto the ballot.

Voters in the district would then choose Buck’s short-term replacement in a separate ballot question from the party primary races. A complication facing Boebert was that if she were to win the special election, she’d have to step down from her 3rd District seat early.

Wadhams said he didn’t think Buck’s resignation — or the coming special election — would benefit any one candidate. But whoever voters selected to serve as the Republican candidate in the special election would get a boost, he said, especially in a crowded primary in which candidates are jockeying to bolster their name recognition.

Polis said in a statement that he chose to hold the elections on the same day to minimize taxpayer costs, though the timing of Buck’s selected resignation date sets up a narrow window around the June primary in which the special election could be scheduled under state law, according to the governor’s office. Polis also thanked Buck for his service.

Buck is serving his fifth term in Congress. Earlier, when he announced he would not seek reelection, he cited “self-serving lies” about the 2020 presidential election from within his own party as a major reason for his decision.

“I look forward to staying involved in our political process, as well as spending more time in Colorado and with my family,” Buck said in his announcement Tuesday.

In a CNN interview shortly after his announcement, Buck said the current session of Congress “is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I’ve been in Congress.” He also said he wouldn’t meddle in picking his successor. But he indicated, without offering specifics, that he hopes to play a role more broadly in improving electoral politics in the U.S.

“Instead of having decorum, instead of operating in a professional manner, this place has just devolved into bickering and nonsense and not really doing the job for the American people,” Buck said.

Prior to Congress, Buck served for about a decade as the Weld County district attorney. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010 against Sen. Michael Bennet. In 2014, he won his first election to Congress.

Staff writers John Aguilar and Seth Klamann contributed to this story.

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