Lamborn faces same two foes from ’06 Republican primary

For freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), it’s déjà vu all over again, as he faces a primary challenge from the two men who ran against him in 2006.

And in this district, which The Cook Political Report rates as “solidly” Republican, the winner of the Aug. 12 primary will likely head to Washington this fall.

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The race has become a mixture of personal and political drama, with Lamborn’s challengers, former congressional aide Jeff Crank and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn, taking as much aim at each other as at the candidate they are trying to unseat.

Colorado’s 5th congressional district, which includes the evangelical hotbed Colorado Springs, is one of the nation’s most staunchly conservative districts.

And Lamborn’s conservative credentials are solid. He was one of three members of Congress who received a perfect rating from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth last year. He has also managed to rack up the endorsements of several influential pro-life groups.

“I’ve got so many things going for me,” Lamborn said in an interview, citing his first-term accomplishments, which include landing a spot on the Armed Services Committee.

But Crank and Rayburn argue that Lamborn’s lack of conservative leadership on a variety of issues and their own superior personal credentials give them an advantage.

Particularly, the two men have hit Lamborn on Pinon Canyon, where a proposed expansion of the Fort Carson army base was blocked by Congress this past session. The two challengers say Lamborn has not done enough to push the project forward.

“It’s an important issue and I’m doing what I can to reverse course on this issue, though I’m outnumbered,” Lamborn said, citing opposition to the plan within both the Colorado delegation and Congress as a whole.

“There are a number of people who look at where we are on that issue and are very disappointed,” Crank countered in an interview with The Hill.

“Doug’s a nice fellow,” Rayburn added, “but voting ‘no’ against the majority all the time doesn’t mean a thing to a conservative agenda.”

Crank, a veteran of Congress, served as an aide to Lamborn’s predecessor, Rep. Joel Hefley (R). Despite Hefley’s endorsement in 2006, Crank lost to Lamborn by 892 votes.

Rayburn, the Air Force veteran, drew just above 17 percent in the 2006 primary. He is betting that his extensive military experience will set him apart from his foes in a region where defense spending is intimately connected to the region’s economic interests. The 5th district is home to five military installations and the Air Force Academy.

However, many perceive the race as a forum for settling not only political differences but also lingering personal scores. “[The 2006 campaign] set a whole new standard for personalized politics,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. “[Crank] was waiting for two years to roll by to take another shot at Lamborn.”

Crank and Rayburn’s race-within-a-race came to a head in late May, when the two campaigns agreed to a poll to determine which of them was the stronger challenger to Lamborn. If one had a margin of greater than four points over the other, the lesser of the two candidates would drop out.

The poll showed Crank leading by 17 points over Rayburn, but was not without controversy. Crank accuses Rayburn’s camp of nitpicking over questions, forcing a delay of two days. Because of this, the polling extended beyond the deadline and eventually oversampled voters, which the Rayburn campaign says invalidates the agreement. (The agreement had called for 400 voters to be polled; 500 were eventually sampled.)

“I think it’s pretty obvious that if the results had been reversed, they would have been trying to find a way to hold me to the agreement,” Crank said. “But they wouldn’t have had to try very hard.”

Rayburn’s campaign, meanwhile, noted that the Colorado Association of Home Builders, which had helped mediate the poll agreement in the first place, has also disowned the results of the poll because of its abnormalities.

As a result, both Rayburn and Crank remain in the race, only raising the height of the hurdle either would need to clear to unseat an incumbent congressman.

On the other side of the fence is Democratic challenger Hal Bidlack, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel with over 25 years of military experience himself. Bidlack’s task — running as a Democrat in one of the nation’s most conservative districts — is clearly a daunting one.

Straayer pointed out that even after the vicious 2006 primary campaign, Lamborn posted a comfortable 60-40 win in the general election: “The [demographic] numbers are just too strong on the Republican side.”

But Bidlack considers his campaign viable for substantive, rather than purely political, reasons. “Voters want common sense returned to government,” he said in an interview. “They want a real fiscal conservative to rein in Bush spending. They want a veteran who will bring the war to a responsible end.”

Lamborn has been busy fundraising and has managed to secure several important endorsements again this cycle. He had $180,000 in cash on hand after the first quarter, according to Federal Election Commission filings, though his opponents did not trail by much.

And Lamborn has the backing of the influential Club for Growth, which said he had one of the best records for a freshman in Congress. “If anything, Lamborn had demonstrated while in Congress that he’s a true economic conservative,” said Club spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik.

But while Lamborn called the squabbles between Rayburn and Crank “interesting,” he is taking the challenge very seriously. Still, he says, “I would much rather be in my shoes than in their shoes.”