Fifth District race getting weird as it goes down to the wire

The race for the Republican nomination for the Fifth District congressional seat, centered in Colorado Springs, grows weirder by the day. You’ve got three-term incumbent Doug Lamborn waging a war of words not only with the district’s biggest and most important newspaper, The Gazette, but also with his predecessor in Congress, Joel Hefley.

Earlier this week, Lamborn, feeling disrespected by the Gazette, urged Republican candidates for other offices to cancel scheduled interviews with the newspaper.

Why is Lamborn upset with the Gazette? It’s hard to tell, exactly. The Gazette had wanted Lamborn to appear together with primary challenger Robert Blaha for a moderated discussion. Lamborn refused and agreed to appear separately from Blaha. The Gazette agreed and scheduled Lamborn to appear first, followed by Blaha. Lamborn objected again and said he would do it, but only if he got to go second. The Gazette agreed, but also decided to allow Blaha to respond to Lamborn’s remarks in writing.

Lamborn then decided he had been treated poorly by the Gazette and called fellow Republicans to urge them not to participate in any video forums with the newspaper. At least one of these calls was recorded, and has now been widely published.

The Denver Post, among other media, published this transcript of one such call:

“I have real problems with how the Gazette treated me in this online video chat yesterday, and I would like to urge you not to do it.

“They were dishonest with me and unfair. They did things to help my opponent they did not tell me they were doing. And they were unfair to me. I just think you shouldn’t do this.”

You can listen to the call at ColoradoPols.

The Gazette has taken the unusual step of responding in an editorial:

The public’s right to know is paramount, especially during an election. That’s why The Gazette invited primary candidates to the set of Gazette TV for live-streaming, unfiltered videos that are broadcast on the Internet for anyone to see.

So we are troubled that our own member of Congress, Rep. Doug Lamborn, has interfered with efforts to give the public more access to politicians who seek their votes.

Politics is a rough-and-tumble business. We suggest that Rep. Lamborn develop thicker skin and stop acting like a candidate for junior high student council. Sabotaging public access to candidates interferes with fair and open political process.

“This is our current leadership — a Congressman who believes he is so much above the rules and those he represents that he sees fit to hinder the efforts of the largest newspaper in his district to educate voters about their choices. It is beyond unbelievable,” said Blaha in a press release.

Lamborn also told reporters in Colorado Springs that he has “gone beyond” the accomplishments of his predecessor Joel Hefley, which prompted Hefley to tell a Gazette reporter that Lamborn is a “knucklehead.”

Lamborn has served three terms and has yet to be the primary sponsor of a bill that became law. Hefley served 10 terms and famously stood up to House leadership while chairing the Ethics Committee.

Bob Loevy, professor of political science at Colorado College and a longtime Republican insider, said Lamborn may be in real danger of losing his seat when primary voters head to the polls June 26. His only saving grace, Loevy said, is that many voters had already cast mail-in ballots by the time the current dust-up commenced.

Loevy said, though, that he realized Lamborn would have a run for his money as soon as Blaha began running television ads months ago.

“The reason I thought he was in trouble, even then, was that Blaha was running real slick professional ads, and lots of them and they were all about the same thing — which is they were anti-Washington,” Loevy said.

“I didn’t know anything about him (Blaha) until then, and that is actually a plus. He has no negatives to run against. I thought he had a good chance from the very beginning,” Loevy said.

The biggest factor in Blaha’s favor, said Loevy — whose primary area of expertise is voter behavior — is that Blaha is the only Republican challenging Lamborn for the nomination. In previous elections Lamborn has never had to go one on one against a single well-funded primary challenger. This time, he needs a majority of primary voters in order to be renominated.

“He is really up against it this time,” Loevy said. “There is a lot of anti-Washington sentiment in this district. I see it as a real race. In a race like this you don’t want to get in an argument with the newspaper or with your predecessor who served for 20 years.

“Blaha has run the perfect outsider campaign. He has no record to attack. The path he has taken does work,” Loevy said.

Hefley did not return multiple phone calls. A Lamborn campaign spokesperson declined the opportunity to comment.

(Image of Rep. Doug Lamborn:

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.