It was all fun and games, what with disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer joining both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to extend a formal “endorsement” to Republican Jeff Crank at his official congressional Web site. But then GOP county pooh-bahs Bob Balink and Greg Garcia popped up — and then that most loathed and feared Democrat himself — state Rep. Michael Merrifield. And no one, at least over at the Crank campaign, was laughing anymore.It’s the latest in the battle over who is the most conservative, the best suited for leadership in Washington — and the most able to wrangle enough attention, support and money in a mini-repeat of the 2006 bid to replace Rep. Joel Hefley in the GOP stronghold, a district that includes Colorado Springs and four surrounding mountain counties.
Crank, Hefley’s former top aide, is challenging freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn, who grabbed the seat in a squeaker of a six-way race two years ago. Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force general who finished third behind Crank in 2006, is also giving it another go. And this time, Crank has hired Alan Philp, of the legendary Trailhead Group attack 527 fame, to run his show.
As far as the aforementioned hodgepodge of “supporters,” Crank’s campaign Web site was initially set up so ordinary joes could log in their names as supporters, along with the mucka-mucks. But then, unlikely names starting up: Eliot Spitzer. Ha Ha Ha. Clinton. Obama. Ha. Ha. Merrifield. Ha.
County GOP party chair Greg Garcia and Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink’s names appeared, followed by a story on the Web site ColoradoPols, claiming the officers had endorsed Crank in violation of party rules that require neutrality (both had supported him two years ago). Until then, Crank says, he had only been vaguely annoyed by, or even aware of, the obviously fake Crank supporters, which were removed from the site.
“People might assume that I love myself, but not that much that I go to my Web site and check my endorsements each week,” Crank quipped.
Eventually, according to sources, Rayburn called around to the Crank campaign and confessed that he had learned one of his own overzealous young campaigners was responsible for posting at least some of the fake names.
For the record, Crank’s real live endorsements this year include retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Soriano, who is the former commanding general of Fort Carson Army base; retired Army Col. Tony Koren, former chief of staff at Fort Carson; developer and school voucher king Steve Schuck; state Board of Education member Peggy Littleton; and all three members of the Teller County Board of Commissioners.
And then there is the unforgettable Philp, who is heading up Crank’s campaign this year. In 2006 Crank was running a seemingly squeaky-clean campaign, despite being inaccurately tagged as pro-gay and pro-tax (fighting words indeed, in this GOP stronghold).
While all that was happening, Philp was setting his own place in history heading the down and dirty, hardball Republican 527 Trailhead Group, which carved a bloody path of slash-’em politics all over the state. Founded by Philp’s past boss, former Gov. Bill Owens, the attack group was funded by beer magnate (and failed U.S. Senate candidate) Pete Coors, along with oilman (and just-named University of Colorado President) Bruce Benson.
Philp seemingly left no Democrat untouched — from now-Gov. Bill Ritter to state Sen. John Morse, Pueblo state Rep. Buffie McFadyen and Lakewood state Sen. Betty Boyd. The Trailhead Group brought us low-ball fliers and radio and TV ads. Philp and his gang of merrymakers were even investigated for criminal wrongdoing in ads against Morse, a former police chief whom they accused of being “incompetent” and “mishandling” a case involving a Fountain man. And they lost all their targeted races.
The criminal charges against Philp were eventually dropped.
Two years later, Crank says, Philp’s past bag of tricks has no place in his campaign, especially against fellow Republicans. He termed Philp, who most recently worked as regional political director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, as “the best campaign manager out there.”
“I am honored to have someone of Alan’s caliber to add to our team,” Crank said. “Alan brings nearly 15 years of experience to this race, and his interest in joining our team further illustrates the strength of our organization.”
Rayburn, meanwhile, has tapped Mike Hesse to run his campaign. Hesse was chief of staff for former Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis, who has thrown support to Rayburn.
And Lamborn has tapped Robin Coran, a GOP activist and former member of the Fountain City Planning Commission, to run what will likely be a grueling re-election effort. This is her first campaign header ever.
This is part of an ongoing series about Colorado’s CD5 race.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org