COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. | Colorado’s longest-serving congressional Republican, Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, faces the biggest primary challenge of his U.S. House career Tuesday.
Then again, Lamborn is no stranger to big primary challenges.
Lamborn is Colorado’s most conservative congressman and among the most conservative in the nation. Coming from deep-red Colorado Springs, in a district that has not elected a Democrat since it was created 40 years ago, he would appear to be a shoo-in to return to Washington for a fourth term.
Yet Lamborn faces a spirited challenge from Robert Blaha, a deep-pocketed businessman who has plowed nearly three-quarters of a million dollars of his own money into his campaign.
Lamborn is the only sitting congressman from Colorado facing a primary, and at a recent GOP picnic in his home county, he didn’t seem nervous as he noshed on hot dogs with the crowd. In his remarks, he steered straight toward November, not Tuesday’s primary.
“Let’s unite after the primary election. Let’s work together. And in November, we are going to take Colorado back for Republicans and Mitt Romney,” he said.
Blaha hopes Lamborn is taking him lightly. He’s heavily advertising in the 5th Congressional District with the message that Lamborn is a back-bencher in Congress and that Colorado Springs needs new blood in Washington.
“This congressman has really not gotten results,” Blaha said at the same GOP picnic earlier this month.
Lamborn concedes he has a fight on his hands. His unflinching conservatism comes with a price. In three terms in Congress, Lamborn has seen none of his bills become law. But he says his record shows that he doesn’t sacrifice his principles to get bills through the process.
“This is my third congressional primary, and this one would be right in the middle. I’ve had one that’s harder and I’ve had one that’s easier,” Lamborn said.
The Lamborn-Blaha contest headlines an otherwise low-key Colorado primary.
The state’s presidential caucuses were more than four months ago. There’s no statewide primary race other than a down-ticket contest for the University of Colorado Board of Regents.
The only other congressional primary for either Republicans or Democrats is in the 2nd District, one historically centered on Boulder but that now includes Fort Collins and Larimer County. Here, Republicans Kevin Lundberg and Eric Weissmann are battling to challenge Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, who is seeking a third term.
The district changed dramatically when new congressional lines were drawn, though it still leans Democratic. Lundberg is a retiring state senator who knows the new Larimer turf well, having represented it in Denver. Weissmann is a businessman and first-time candidate who is campaigning as a moderate alternative. Both think the district is now winnable for a Republican.
“Roughly half the district is new, so there are a lot of voters who didn’t want to be in the Boulder congressional district and really want an alternative to Congressman Polis,” Weissmann said.
Polis, like every Democrat running for Congress from Colorado this year, faces no primary challenge. Even on lower-ticket races, Republicans have more prominent primaries. Among the races worth watching:
— House Republican Leader Amy Stephens faces Republican Rep. Marsha Looper in a district that pairs the two incumbents. Looper accuses Stephens of being too centrist, especially for her support of a state health insurance exchange, something required under the new federal health care law. Stephens, in turn, emphasizes her leadership position and the influence it can bring her El Paso County constituents. Observers consider this contest a report card of sorts from a Republican stronghold on how the two-year-old Republican majority in the state House has done.
— Sen. Jean White of Hayden is facing state Rep. Randy Baumgardner in a new, sprawling, northwest Colorado district. This race, also sparked by legislative reapportionment, turned nasty in recent weeks. Voters have been sent pictures of two men embracing to highlight White’s support for an unsuccessful civil unions bill, a measure Baumgardner opposed. And Baumgardner was slammed with reports that a convicted sex offender who failed to register with the state lives at his house.
— Rep. Larry Liston of El Paso County goes up against Owen Hill in a newly drawn Senate seat. Hill is a well-funded nonprofit executive known for nearly defeating Senate Democratic Leader John Morse in 2010. Liston is campaigning on his House experience.