A divided GOP in Colorado’s 5th district has opened the door for a possible primary to oust freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn (R) in 2008, and this time Lamborn may be facing only one opponent instead of the five he ran against in August’s primary.
Two 2006 candidates, former Congressional aide Jeff Crank and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn, are considering running again in next year’s GOP primary, but Republican sources say only one of them will run to avoid the six-way split that left Lamborn to win with only 27 percent of the vote last year.
“Several of the other [2006 candidates] have encouraged me to run,” said Crank, who lost the August primary by 2 points. “I think the general consensus is that the outcome would have been different if we had not had six people in the race.”
Lamborn said he hopes bygones will be bygones and that his former opponents will rally around him next year. But his potential GOP foes seem emboldened by his relatively weak fundraising performance in the second quarter of the year.
Last year’s primary left many hard feelings. Local groups supporting Lamborn ran tough ads attacking Crank’s record — some Republicans called them out-and-out smears — and outgoing Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), Crank’s former boss, refused to endorse Lamborn after his primary win. Lamborn easily won the general election in the heavily Republican Colorado Springs district, but unfinished business from the primary has left the 2008 field wide open, said Crank, who is “seriously considering” running.
“I think all of [the 2006 primary candidates] felt like we all sort of ran this race on issues and Doug came in and really lied on my record on tax issues,” Crank said. “If I run against Doug, it’s going to be on issues, it’s going to be on leadership, it’s going to be on style. If Doug’s going to do that — be a leader and be out there and not try to be divisive in the party — there’s probably no need to challenge Doug.”
Rayburn has yet to publicly announce his intentions, but John Gaughan, his former campaign manager, said he is “getting his name out there and he is being seen.” But Rayburn and Crank shouldn’t both run, Gaughan said — a hope echoed by Crank, who said he and Rayburn have talked a little about the best course of action. The six-way primary in 2006 pitted Republicans against each other, they said, mirroring the nationwide problem that contributed to the party losing the House and Senate.
“I think he’s got the bug, but I think that he’s smart enough to know that we don’t want a primary fight,” Gaughan said of Rayburn, who finished third in last year’s primary with 17 percent of the vote. “We probably took votes away from Jeff Crank.”
El Paso County GOP Chairman Greg Garcia also envisions a united party. If Crank or Rayburn run, he said, the primary should be based on ideas, not personalities.
“From my perspective, Republicans are a party of ideas, and if we have primary it can’t be about attacks,” he said. “I think that everybody has learned their lesson. Nobody is going to want to drag anybody through the mud.”
The nastiest fight in the 2006 primary was between Lamborn and Crank. Lamborn accused Crank of supporting tax increases, while Crank has accused Lamborn of illegally coordinating with the Club for Growth, the conservative anti-tax group that had endorsed him. Hefley then made waves by not endorsing Lamborn.
Now, Hefley says Crank could have an uphill battle against an incumbent, but he acknowledged the need for a Republican to challenge Lamborn. Rayburn only has a chance of “fouling it up,” he said.
“Out there, there is a sizable — and I don’t know how sizable but I hear it quite a bit — group who would like to see Lamborn not be their Congressman,” Hefley said. “The best I can tell, there is a fairly sizable contingent who is encouraging Jeff Crank. He did get very close last time.”
Lamborn said he hoped it was all in the past.
“I suppose it’s possible there could be a small circle of disaffected people. I know that they’re a small minority,” he said, later adding: “I’ve tried to reach out in the past. At the time, feelings were running a little high. There’s always room for more work to be done there. I’ll certainly give that strong consideration.”
Crank said Lamborn’s low fundraising numbers for the second quarter reflect a lack of reaching out: Lamborn’s campaign raised almost $37,000 from April 1 to June 30 and spent about $30,000. Lamborn said he didn’t begin raising money until the last month of the quarter and that he intends to do more fundraising from now on.
While Crank and others see a divided primary as a way of defining the GOP’s positions, Lamborn said he thinks any challenge will hurt the party.
“I want the Republican Party to be successful,” he said. “I would be a little surprised for people to go forward because it would cost so much money and be potentially divisive.”
David M. Drucker contributed to this report.