He was the quintessential invisible candidate. He ducked the limelight. He ignored the bloody primary battle between fellow Republicans Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn. He refused even to debate them, and even to talk with some local press. In his re-election bid, Doug Lamborn bypassed the formal nominating process — unheard of for an incumbent politician. And guess what? It worked. The day after the primary, Lamborn the winner popped his head out of the hole, picked up the telephone and called the Colorado Independent to talk about current events — and what he’s got cooking in Washington.
The evolution of a grudge match
Two years ago Lamborn won a stunner of a six-way GOP primary to replace Joel Hefley, who retired after 20 years in Congress. The bitterness over the race — in which Lamborn’s supporters accused Crank and another Republican candidate, Lionel Rivera, of supporting taxes and the so-called homosexual agenda (fighting words in these conservative parts) — lingered.
Hefley, who had supported Crank, refused to endorse Lamborn in the general election, calling Lamborn’s brand of politics “sleazy.” No one was surprised when Crank came back for a do-over two years later — indeed Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams reportedly termed it “unfinished business in the Fifth.”
But when Rayburn, a retired Air Force general who finished third in 2006, also jumped in the race, many observers concluded that Lamborn’s second victory was sealed.
In truth, neither Crank nor Rayburn could detail many things that Lamborn stood for that they did not. All possess the same worldview — supporting the war in Iraq and against “Islamofascism”; and, on the domestic front, eliminating things like the Department of Education and privatizing Social Security and de-funding the National Endowment for the Arts and man-woman only marriage. As Lamborn says — and it just as well could be Rayburn or Crank saying it too — “This is a conservative district and I stand for conservative values.”
Rather, Crank and Rayburn said, their style of leadership was superior to that of Lamborn, a former state representative and senator who boasted sponsorship of more anti-abortion bills than anyone in the history of Colorado — though none of them passed.
In Congress for two years, the freshman Lamborn has had his share of critical moments — including voting against a bill outlawing dogfighting (he maintained that particular issue should be decided by states). He got heat for supporting a study to expand the Pinon Canyon Army training site in southeast Colorado – one of the most heated controversies in the state last year — and potentially threatening ranchers in the area with losing their property through eminent domain.
Arguably his biggest achievement was securing a seat on the House Armed Services Committee — important in a district with five military installations. He is also working, with Democratic Rep. John Salazar, to secure a veterans’ cemetery in southern Colorado.
On election night last week, the pundits’ predictions came true: Lamborn emerged with 44 percent of the vote in El Paso County. Crank, with 29 percent, and Rayburn, with 27 percent, split the majority of the vote.
A day later Lamborn celebrated his victory with a press release that surely made his primary challengers seethe: He issued a challenge to his Democratic opponent, Hal Bidlack, to debate him in the months leading up to the general election in one of the conservative districts in the state (debates that Bidlack had already agreed to).
Last Wednesday Lamborn talked with the Colorado Independent about his race, the campaign ahead and, briefly, his plans when going back to Washington.
A post-primary Q&A with Lamborn
The Colorado Independent: So why did you refuse to debate Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn during the primary campaign?
Doug Lamborn: Well, as I’ve alluded to, there were really no differences in the issues, in the case of my major challengers no major differences at all. And that leaves us to talk about it our personalities, and that would not have been as constructive. It would just have turned negative and attacking.
TCI: What are you planning to do now? Are you going to Disneyland?
DL: No, but my wife and I are going to leave town for change of scenery — we’re taking a road trip to an undetermined location.
TCI: Have Crank and Rayburn congratulated you?
DL: After a decisive victory, they both came and did it in person. That was big of them, and I admire them for doing so.
TCI: Have you talked with Crank and Rayburn and asked why they decided to primary you?
DL: As far as I’m concerned, that’s water under the bridge; you can’t unring the bell.
TCI: What about the GOP leadership in El Paso County? Certainly there’s been a perception at the least of favoritism toward at least one of your opponents. Have you spoken to them about this?
DL: Those are questions about discussions that are best left private. I will continue to have open dialogue with all of those in party leadership.
TCI: After a pretty bruising primary, El Paso County Republicans are planning a unity rally for this Saturday, Aug. 23. Can this happen, and do you plan to be there?
DL: It’s a wonderful idea. I sense a strong sense to be united. Republicans are looking at the top of the ticket — the presidential race could hinge on Colorado’s nine electoral votes, and the U.S. Senate race will definitely make people look beyond my race and [other primary battles] and … understand that we have to be working together.
TCI: What’s the biggest lesson of your primary election?
DL: When it comes to campaigns, stick to the game plan and trust that the people [working for you] will be wise and make the right decisions.
TCI: Still, adding up the returns from election night, you didn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote. Rather, the majority of the vote was split by Rayburn and Crank. Does that bother you?
DL: Our polling showed that if either of them had dropped out, it would have been the same — I would have beaten either of them [in a one-on-one matchup].
TCI: Who else did you hear from right after your primary win?
DL: Man! It’s been busy! Mark Hillman, the GOP national committeeman, called. I’ve gotten messages from [Democratic U.S. Senator] Ken Salazar. I’ve talked with [Secretary of State and successful 6th Congressional District GOP candidate] Mike Coffman and congratulated him on winning; should he and I both survive our challenges in November, I’m looking forward to working with him in Washington.
TCI: Are you disappointed that the Secretary of State’s office now is in Democratic hands?
DL: I have mixed feelings. In theory it’s not supposed to be a partisan or policy-setting position. I would hope that in the case that person would be completely fair. I didn’t endorse anyone in that [four-way GOP] race (for CD6). I had my own race to concentrate on. Now I am endorsing Mike Coffman.
TCI: Were you disappointed to see Douglas Bruce, whom you’ve supported, defeated in state House District 15?
DL: I haven’t had time to dwell on that race.
TCI: Do you support Amendment 48, the “personhood amendment” designed to give legal protections from conception on?
DL: Amendment 48 is the right thing to do. To me it’s wrong that a child one day away from birth, at nine months along in pregnancy, has absolutely no legal protections. [Amendment 48 defines life beginning at] conception; you obviously have to start somewhere and have to start where life starts, but you also have to talk about protecting children who are one day away from being delivered.
TCI: Are you disappointed that U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, an avowed pro-life proponent, initially declined to take a position on Amendment 48 — and lately said that he does not support the personhood amendment?
DL: He is still working through all the issues surrounding 48 — he obviously has a lot on his plate, as does [Democratic candidate Mark] Udall.
TCI: Are you hoping that Schaffer does come out for Amendment 48 in the end?
DL: That’s my hope.
TCI: What else do you feel strongly about on the Colorado ballot in November?
DL: Amendment 47 — I hope it passes; workers shouldn’t have to be forced to join unions.
TCI: And in Washington? What can we expect to see you push on in coming months?
DL: We’re making solid progress towards getting a veterans’ cemetery in Colorado. I’ve got a favorable committee assignment on veterans’ affairs and have been working really hard on it, along with Rep. Salazar. Also, I am on [the] Natural Resources [Committee] and … my immediate need is to prevail upon [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi to allow for offshore drilling. I will work along with others, both Republicans and Democrats, to get that done.