When longtime Republican Rep. Joel Hefley announced that he would not run for re-election in congressional district 5 (Colorado Springs) in early 2006, it placed on the table a rare prize: An open seat “for life.” Six Republican candidates ended up joining the race to succeed Hefley in a district in which registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin, and many more pondered entering the race before ultimately deciding against it. The race was so popular because the winning Republican candidate was all but assured of prevailing over the Democrat in November, and with the benefit of incumbency it was likely that they would be able to hold onto the seat for as long as they chose (in the same way that Hefley was re-elected every two years for decades).
But in the midst of a very heated primary election last summer, the eventual winner on the Republican side made so many enemies that he may not even be re-elected once, let alone be able to hold the seat for as long as he likes. Doug Lamborn edged out Jeff Crank with a meager 27 percent of the vote to win the six-way primary and later easily defeated Democrat Jay Fawcett in the general election). In essence, it only took 15,126 votes to make Lamborn a sitting congressman in a district that represents hundreds of thousands of people; once he made it to the general election Lamborn was fine, since most Republican voters would choose a dead pigeon as their representative so long as it was a Republican dead pigeon. Lamborn thus entered his first year in congress without much of a base of support, and after several bad votes and weak fundraising for his re-election bid, Lamborn is barely more threatening politically than that aforementioned pigeon.
Crank confirmed recently that he will challenge Lamborn again in a primary next summer, and if you were a betting man you’d almost have to make him the favorite to win. This is so rare in Colorado that I don’t even remember the last time it happened, when a challenger from the same political party entered an election as a favorite to beat the incumbent. Things are so bad for Lamborn, in fact, that top GOP officials have been unusually outspoken in their dislike. As The Denver Post reported earlier this month:
Freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn is on only his eighth month in office, but some in his own party are working vigorously to oust him from his House seat…
…”There is a great deal of unrest and a great deal of talk about people running in the primary against him,” said former Rep. Joel Hefley, a Republican who retired last year after representing the 5th District for 20 years. “I would be very surprised if he did not have a very substantial primary (challenge).”…
… Republican discontent is roiling in the 5th District, stemming from multiple causes. Some Republicans remain embittered about Lamborn’s 2006 victory, when he won a six-way primary with 27 percent of the vote.
Others point to what they see as his failings in office. Critics fault him for failing to stop a landslide House vote blocking the U.S. Army from proceeding with its planned expansion of the PiÃ±on Canyon Maneuver Site for one year. (That action has not passed the Senate).
“They question his effectiveness,” said state Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs.
Negative campaigning from last summer left such a bad taste in people’s collective mouths, in fact, that the El Paso County GOP Chair recently issued a decree to keep things clean. It’s not hard to read between the lines in Chairman Greg Garcia’s statement:
“…we have seen divisive, dishonest attacks and damaging inferences. As we move forward, we will leave those political tactics â€“ and anyone who utilizes them or will not disavow them – behind.”
It’s not unexpected that so many people would dislike Lamborn after a tough six-way primary, but I think it’s telling that so many Republican officials are clearly unafraid of him. Nobody wants to make a permanent enemy of a sitting congressman, but you get the sense from all of these comments that people aren’t at all worried that Lamborn will even be around after the next election.
This is all bad news for Lamborn, but it’s also a lesson in the problems with having congressional districts that are too heavily-weighted toward one party or the other. You ask how could someone as divisive and disliked as Doug Lamborn could end up in congress? When he only needs 15,000 votes to get there. You ask how someone like Republican Tom Tancredo could end up in congress? The same way – in 1998 Tancredo won a six-way primary with 10,166 votes. Republicans also outnumber Democrats in CD-6 by a 2-to-1 margin, and Tancredo has never been seriously challenged since he won that primary nine years ago.
By contrast, consider the most competitive congressional race in Colorado in 2006; Republican Marilyn Musgrave edged out Democrat Angie Paccione with just 46 percent of the vote, but that meant picking up nearly 110,000 votes. Musgrave remains a divisive figure, but a lot of people made the choice to vote for her, and that’s the beauty of a Democracy. Democrats don’t like Musgrave, but plenty of Republicans do. In Colorado Springs, practically nobody likes Doug Lamborn, yet he still made it to congress. Not for long, anyway.