By Pam Zubeck
Congressman Doug Lamborn has been in the political fight of his life to gain a June 26 primary ballot slot after members of his own party challenged his nominating petitions as invalid due to out-of-state residents carrying the petitions. Under state law, only Colorado residents can circulate such petitions.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer will decide the case “soon,” after Lamborn sought to have part of the state’s election law declared unconstitutional following an April 24 Colorado Supreme Court decision that ruled his petitions fell 58 valid signatures short of the 1,000 required.
If he loses, the six-term congressman might have to take a long-shot pathway to a seventh term in the November general election — as a write-in candidate. Or he could take his case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It wouldn’t have come to this if Lamborn had executed a simple requisite in the petitioning process. But he didn’t, and that underscores Lamborn’s lackluster performance as a congressman and a politician, some observers say.
“When your political life is hanging in the balance, why do you outsource it?” says Joshua Dunn, political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, referring to Lamborn’s hiring of Kennedy Enterprises to gather signatures.
For retired Air Force officer Irv Halter, a Democrat defeated by Lamborn in the 2014 general election, the petition escapade “does not speak well of somebody who essentially can’t manage a small contract well. If you can’t do that, what business do you have being a congressman?”
That’s a question some have been asking for the nearly 12 years Lamborn has represented the 5th Congressional District, which includes Colorado Springs.
While both of his predecessors, Joel Hefley and Ken Kramer, won the seat and rarely faced a primary opponent, Lamborn has drawn opposition in every primary but one. Yet, he always wins another term, which observers attribute to the power of incumbency and Lamborn’s ultra-conservative stance, which plays to his base.
“Doug Lamborn has a very serious group of people that follow him and continue to support him,” says businessman Robert Blaha, who challenged Lamborn in the 2012 primary and helped with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in Colorado. “The end result is Doug has met every challenge and won every time.”
But can he pull it off again this year?
Lamborn, who served 11 years in the Colorado House and Senate, won the open CD5 seat in 2006 after Joel Hefley retired. It was a controversial campaign, with Hefley accusing Lamborn of being “sleazy” based on Lamborn’s or his campaigners’ allegations that his leading competitor, former Hefley staffer Jeff Crank, advocated for the gay agenda. Lamborn captured the nomination with only 27 percent of the vote against five other candidates. In November, he handily defeated retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jay Fawcett, a Democrat, in the heavily Republican district.
In 2008, he again faced Crank and retired Air Force Gen. Bentley Rayburn and took 44 percent. In the general, he defeated retired Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, a Democrat.
His first two years in Congress, Lamborn spent $238,983 on taxpayer-funded mail to constituents, more than during his next four years combined, which opponents have needled him with as a legal, but unethical, way to campaign for office.
In 2010, Lamborn didn’t have a primary, and in 2012 defeated Blaha in the primary and several political novices in the general. Rayburn gave him a tough primary in 2014, losing to Lamborn by only 2 percentage points, after which Lamborn defeated Halter.
In 2016, Lamborn nearly missed the ballot when he drew only 35 percent of GOP assembly delegates — 30 percent is needed for a ballot spot — after surprise opponent, newcomer Calandra Vargas, emerged with the ballot’s top line. But Lamborn trounced her in the primary and faced a little-known Democrat that November.
This year, Lamborn once again isn’t a shoo-in. El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in 2014, retired Texas judge Bill Rhea, and former Green Mountain Falls mayor Tyler Stevens have petitioned onto the ballot, while State Sen. Owen Hill won his primary berth at the assembly, which Lamborn skipped this time.
Now, his petition effort is up in the air, as Judge Brimmer considers Lamborn’s argument that the state’s circulator residency requirement denies the rights of voters who signed his petition.
Insiders say the botched petition effort is just the latest of Lamborn’s failings. The congressman has seen few of his bills become law in his time in office, and those tended to be minor legislation:
- House Resolution 2366 in 2014 authorized minting a $1 silver coin to commemorate the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I, which will be struck this year and sold for $10 each.
- HR 3375 in 2014 named the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs after Army Private Floyd K. Lindstrom, killed in action in Italy during World War II and awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1944.
- HR 4073 in 2013 authorized the U.S. Forest Service to accept the right-of-way for the Manitou Incline, a popular extreme hiking trail, that cleared the way for Colorado Springs to manage and improve it. (A Utah lawmaker amended the bill to correct the property’s legal description contained in Lamborn’s bill.)
People inside the party say Lamborn refuses to risk much, nor does he accomplish much for the district but rather racks up a conservative voting record — he’s repeatedly opposed Obamacare — in order to win plaudits from conservative groups, such as the American Conservative Union. Dunn says Republicans want more than a conservative bobblehead. “He’s been there 12 years now. He’s in a really safe seat,” Dunn says. “Republicans expect someone to take a safe seat and really do something with it.”
As Blaha notes, “If we were killing it in the 5th CD, you wouldn’t see Doug primaried,” and Rayburn says repeated primary opponents demonstrate there are “people out there who aren’t happy with his performance.”
Halter says he sought the office because so many Republicans weren’t happy with Lamborn. “There were competency issues, maybe some character issues. He doesn’t present well. I’ve watched him talk sometimes, and I feel sorry for him,” he says.
In fact, Lamborn rarely holds open forums and has refused to debate opponents for several years. (Lamborn’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for an interview.)
Even Dick Wadhams, a Republican consultant and former state GOP chair, acknowledges that Lamborn has failed to consolidate the Republican base
during a dozen years in Congress.
That’s unusual. So is losing a seat to insufficient petitions. Dunn says the only other time he’s aware that it’s happened was in 2012 when Michigan Republican Thaddeus McCotter resigned his seat after most of his signatures were declared fraudulent.
But if Lamborn makes the ballot, will the blunder impact his primary campaign?
While Wadhams and others don’t think so, Rayburn says, “It’s certainly not going to be a plus,” and Dunn says he thinks it will work against him.
But Halter has another take. This time, the CD5 race has drawn multiple political leaders, and that could prove to be the very thing that hands Lamborn a win. “I think his advantage is, there are strong people going against him,” he says, “and so they eat away at each other’s vote,” leaving Lamborn the victor.