By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Democrat Kevin Bradley’s goal while campaigning door-to-door in Republican dominated CD 5 is simple. Instead of discussing hot button issues like the economy, jobs and the war in Afghanistan, Bradley promotes Democratic awareness.
“It starts out with, ‘Do you know who your Congressman is?’” explained Bradley, the former Fremont County Democratic Chair from 2007 to 2009 and former Florence City Councilman from 2005 to 2007.
“I describe the district, talk about the current congressman and ask them how they’re feeling about the political process,” Bradley said. “A good deal of our conversation generally is dispelling myths: talking about a stimulus program that’s working, talking about what’s really in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It’s trying to provide a positive impetus to the engaged.”
Bradley, who admits an affinity for Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama’s administration, faces the overwhelming task of upsetting incumbent Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, who is running for a third term.
Libertarian Jerell Klaver and American Constitution Party candidate Brian Scott, who ran for the same seat in 2008, are also running.
Neither of the challengers is mounting much of a threat to Lamborn, who has raised $316,916 through September.
“I’m running because somebody needs to stand up for people who aren’t represented. I wish it were more noble than that, but I’m trying to set an example of people standing up for change that they believe in,” said Bradley, who’s not accepting PAC contributions and has raised only $1,700 since volunteering to carry the Democratic torch at the district assembly in May. He said the money has been used for a campaign website, cell phone and transportation costs.
Both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said they’re not focusing efforts on the CD 5 race this year.
“We work on competitive races, so in Colorado we’re working on (CD) 3, 4 and 7,” said Joanna Burgos, spokesperson for the NRCC.
Andy Stone with the DCCC said his organization is focusing on the same races, adding that the competition in the CD 5 race is “certainly not like the others.”
Lamborn, named the most conservative congressman by National Journal earlier this year, appears to be a lock in Colorado’s reddest district. He characterizes Bradley as a Democrat who is out of the mainstream in CD 5 and said he would “fit in a lot better in Denver or Boulder.”
Lamborn again pledged to repeal “Obamacare” last week and has said his campaign represents a continued resistance to the policies by Democrats in power in Washington, D.C.
“With Barack Obama’s policies failing in so many essential ways, there’s a renewed opportunity to turn back to conservative principles that we saw during the Reagan years,” said Lamborn, a former state lawmaker who was first elected to Congress in 2006.
Lamborn emerged as the victor in highly contested primaries in 2006 and 2008, which left the party there splintered. The differences have since been resolved, Lamborn said.
“I’m happy that we’ve resolved the differences that existed in the past because it’s never any fun to have disagreements within your own family,” the Congressman said.
Jeff Crank, Lamborn’s most contentious primary opponent who lost to the Congressman by 1 point in 2006 and 14 points in 2008, said district Republicans now appear united behind Lamborn.
“People understand that those races were a few years ago,” said Crank, who now serves as director for Americans for Prosperity and hosts a conservative talk show on 740 KVOR. “We’ve all moved on and done our thing and, in a lot of ways, we’re certainly pulling for the conservative cause all together.”
Crank said he doesn’t agree with Lamborn’s unwillingness to sign a pledge for Americans for Prosperity asking candidates to resist making earmarks if they’re elected. Klaver is the only candidate in the race to sign the pledge.
Republicans have held the CD 5 seat since the district’s creation following the 1970 U.S. Census.
Registered voter demographics through September in CD 5 greatly favor conservatives with 190,668 Republicans, 1,801 Libertarians and 391 American Constitution Party members, compared to 101,559 Democrats and 146,451 registered unaffiliated voters. The district covers El Paso, Fremont, Chaffee, Lake and Park counties, and is home to several large military establishments including Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy.
Hal Bidlack, the Democratic candidate who opposed Lamborn in the 2008 election, said while it’s difficult for Democrats to win in CD 5, it’s not impossible.
“Money is very important,” said Bidlack, the current Democratic chair of El Paso County who nominated Bradley for the seat. “Our polling showed when people found out about me, the race was competitive — I could have beat the guy.”
Bidlack garnered 36.9 percent of votes in 2008 after raising $241,785. He estimates it would take several times more than what he raised to mount a competitive Democratic campaign.
Libertarian Klaver said any dreams of raising enough money to defeat Lamborn died when Bradley joined the race.
“It would have been the only race between a Republican and Libertarian,” he said. “I had a lot of people jumping on board seeing what the Democrats were going to do and at the last moment Kevin jumped in the race, which took a lot of steam out of any potential fund raising.”
Klaver, a former Marine and current business owner in Manitou Springs, wouldn’t reveal how much money he’s raised but acknowledged it’s below the $5,000 reporting threshold of the Federal Election Commission. Klaver said he’s used a portion of his campaign funds to spread yard signs across the district.
Bradley’s resistance to raising campaign funds was designed, he said, to focus attention in the election on local issues.
“I have tried to keep this race local and I think in large measure I’ve been successful in not pursuing the big money and therefore allowing my opponent not to have to chase it,” he said. “It hasn’t worked out as well as I hoped,” the candidate conceded.
Scott, the American Constitution Party nominee and a 10-year Army veteran, said he hasn’t raised any money for the campaign, but is still holding out hope for victory.
A quiet campaign in a not-so-quiet political year
Lamborn has led a relatively quiet campaign thus far. While he focuses on meeting with constituents and business associations within the district, he said much of his time has been dedicated to electing other Republican congressional candidates in Colorado. On Oct. 12, he hosted a fundraiser at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for fellow candidates Scott Tipton in CD 3, Cory Gardner in CD 4 and Ryan Frazier in CD 7.
Lamborn’s first political ads started running on three FM radio channels and two AM channels in the district last Tuesday.
“His ads emphasize the need to go to the polls and vote — not just for him, but for all the Republican candidates who are fighting to restore our economy and reduce the size and scope of government,” said Catherine Mortensen, Lamborn’s spokeswoman.
Lamborn has resisted appeals by opponents for an organized debate and recently declined an invitation from the Cañon City Chamber of Commerce for a debate because it was scheduled for the same night as his Broadmoor fundraiser.
“We haven’t arrived at anything and we’re starting to run out of time. I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea but frankly I’m not sensing much clamor out there in the public for this particular debate to take place when there’s other higher profile races going on that have peoples’ attention,” Lamborn said.
Bradley criticized Lamborn for voting “no” on major legislation brought by the Democrats this year. If elected, Bradley said he would continue to support investments into renewable energy made by the Obama administration through the stimulus package. He would also continue support for the health care package passed this year.
“Doug’s message is we need to fear this change, we need to go back to what we were doing before, we need to protect the wealthy and eventually that money will arrive to the working class,” Bradley said. “The steps that Congress and the Obama administration have taken are visions of the future — laying the groundwork for important renewable development, and important rethinking of how we approach our role in the 21st century.”
Klaver said he’s challenging Lamborn because he said the congressman is out of touch with the district as a career politician.
“His career is to run for office. And that’s not real life. Real life is people who have worked for companies, who own their own company, which I’ve done both — I’ve managed multi-million dollar contracts for IBM and I started my own company,” said Klaver, who operates Salus Natural Body Care, a small business with his wife Elissa. “You want leadership, you want people that actually know what’s it’s like to live a day-to-day, have to seek out health care and seek out just bare income. Our current congressman doesn’t have that ability. He’s been a career politician for 16 years.”
If Klaver is elected, he would rally for the end of the war in Afghanistan, drastically cut social services, reduce taxes and government regulation and “vote always to get government out of the way.”
Scott, the American Constitution Party candidate in the race, said he would be able to accomplish all his goals in Congress in just a single term and would decline to run for reelection.
“My principle motivation is to wind down the Iraq War, which is still ongoing and end the Afghanistan War, and hopefully avert the invasion of any other country that doesn’t pose a threat to us,” said Scott. He added that he’d be in Afghanistan next month working on a contract as an advisor for the State Department. “My opponent, on the other hand, wants to stay the course until we reach victory, which is not attainable — that means endless death, endless expenditures and endless colonial imposition of our will on sovereign nations.”
Scott said he’d also shed light on the use of mercenaries hired by the U.S. for foreign wars and attempt to end that practice.
Lamborn to Republicans: Charge!
Brandy Slater, the CD 5 Democratic chair since 2009, said underdog Bradley could benefit in the election from low congressional approval ratings.
“In this election cycle there is such an anti-incumbency movement going on that gives him a great shot,” Slater said.
Lamborn characterizes the anti-incumbent mood differently. Emanating from the Tea Party movement is more of an “anti-Washington mood,” he said.
“I feel like by taking a strong conservative position I’m part of a wave of energy such as the Tea Party movement and the resurgence of Republicans demonstrates,” Lamborn said.
His excitement for a possible House Republican majority comes with a warning for his Republican colleagues.
“Should Republicans be given the honor and the responsibility of having the majority in the next Congress they’re going to have to perform. And what Republicans are going to have to do is live by the principles they say they believe in, such as limited government and less spending.
“If they’re not serious about that, they’re going to get thrown out again and deservedly so,” he said.