CongressElection 2018News

Trail Mix: The road to Colorado’s 2018 election, April 1 edition

Author: Ernest Luning - April 1, 2018 - Updated: April 12, 2018

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Colorado lawsThe Colorado Capitol (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

FAMILIAR TERRITORY? … U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn learned this week that he successfully petitioned his way onto the Republican primary ballot and will be facing at least two GOP challengers in his bid for a seventh term representing the 5th Congressional District. It’s a familiar situation for Lamborn, who was first elected in 2006, to find himself in a primary — but contrary to what seems to be widely held impressions, Lamborn isn’t that used to petitioning onto the ballot or confronting multiple primary opponents.

When the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday that a sufficient number of signatures had been validated on Lamborn’s nominating petition — he needed 1,000, and officials said he turned in 1,269 that met requirements — more than one seasoned political observer remarked that Lamborn “always” petitions on, rather than go through the GOP’s district assembly. And when the second prominent Republican jumped in the primary against Lamborn last summer — state Sen. Owen Hill announced his challenge in April, El Paso County commissioner Darryl Glenn joined the race in July — it was an oft-heard assertion that Lamborn had only survived so many primaries because he always faced a divided field.

The last time the incumbent did either, however, was 10 years ago.

After serving a dozen years in the General Assembly — elected twice to the House and twice to the Senate — Lamborn got onto the ballot through assembly and then eked out a win for the open congressional seat in 2006 with 27 percent of the vote in a bitter six-way primary. He went on to win the general election with 60 percent in the safely Republican district.

But when it came time to seek reelection in 2008, Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn, the second- and third-place finishers in the last primary, respectively, both wanted another crack at the seat. The two challengers jostled on the way to the primary. Initially, they agreed that ousting Lamborn was their priority and agreed that whichever candidate trailed in a May poll would step aside for the stronger candidate, but when the results had Crank leading by 4 points, Rayburn disputed the poll’s validity and stayed in the race.

Meanwhile, Lamborn announced he would petition onto the ballot, saying he’d “lost confidence” in the local parties’ ability to manage assemblies after roughly six times as many Republicans as usual showed up for precinct caucuses. On primary night, Lamborn prevailed with about 44 percent of the vote, followed by Crank at just under 30 percent and Rayburn at about 26 percent. Lamborn returned to Congress with 60 percent of the vote in November.

Thus, it appears, the legend was born — a petitioning Lamborn wins the primary, but only because his rivals split the vote.

Except neither of those have been the case in any of his elections since, until this year.

Lamborn won the 2010 nomination without a primary and won his third term with nearly 66 percent of the vote.

In 2012, wealthy businessman Robert Blaha mounted a primary campaign against Lamborn, who blasted Blaha’s decision to bypass the assembly and petition on the ballot as a demonstration of Blaha’s weakness among party loyalists, saying he doubted “the people of Colorado can be bought so easily.” Lamborn won the primary handily, with just under 62 percent to Blaha’s roughly 38 percent. The incumbent then won the general election with 65 percent against four minor-party and independent opponents, as the Democrats didn’t nominate a candidate that year.

The next time around, in 2014, Lamborn faced a second rematch with Rayburn, who jumped in the race just two weeks before the district assembly, but this one was head-to-head. Lamborn won the primary with about 53 percent over Rayburn’s roughly 47 percent. He went on to defeat Democratic nominee Irv Halter 60-40 in November.

Lamborn had a scare at the 2016 assembly when activist Calandra Vargas came within 18 delegate votes of keeping the incumbent off the ballot — Lamborn needed the support of 30 percent of the delegates and got it from 35 percent — but easily defeated her in the primary, 68-32 percent. He won the general election with just over 62 percent of the vote. (Vargas is running in a primary for an El Paso County Commission seat this year against Holly Williams, whose husband, Wayne Williams, is Colorado’s secretary of state and a former county commissioner.)

As many as five Republicans have been running to unseat Lamborn this year — Glen, Hill, former Texas state judge Bill Rhea and former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens, plus Colorado Springs Councilman Tom Strand was in the race for a while but withdrew. Glenn qualified for the ballot by petition last month, and Hill got the nod by acclamation at assembly Saturday, while Rhea and Stevens have submitted petitions, which are under review.

Lamborn had left open the possibility he might go through assembly but found out his petition was sufficient to make the ballot just two days before it was scheduled to convene. Once that was clear, perhaps recalling his primaries 10 and 12 years ago, Lamborn’s campaign made it clear: “Because Congressman Lamborn has qualified for the ballot by petition and because he wants as many people on the ballot as possible, he will not be going through the assembly,” Lamborn’s campaign spokesman told Colorado Politics. “Congressman Lamborn has released his supporters to vote so as to get one or more additional names on the ballot. Who they are does not matter; the more the merrier.”

And thus the legend, although it might have only been loosely tied to the man, gets another life.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.