Republican businessman Eric Weissmann’s candidacy for CD 2 against popular and well-funded Democratic incumbent Rep. Jared Polis is, by many accounts, a longshot. But recent voter registration numbers from the Colorado secretary of state show that the race — at least on paper — may be closer than originally anticipated.
Initially, when borders were finalized after redistricting last year, Democrats enjoyed a 4-point advantage over Republicans among active voters, but that lead has dwindled to just two points, according to registration numbers released in February.
The new data paints a more competitive picture of the 2nd CD, with 34 percent of active voters registered listed as Democrats, 32 percent registered as Republicans, and 33 percent unaffiliated. The remaining voters belong to either the Green or Libertarian parties.
The 2nd CD gained Larimer County and parts of Jefferson County after redistricting last December. The district lost some northern Denver suburbs as well as portions of “ski country” counties along the I-70 corridor.
Weissmann, a 47 year-old resident of Boulder, sets up a potential primary battle between himself and state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, with his entrance into the race earlier this month.
On Feb. 4, Weissmann announced his candidacy to a crowd of about 70 people in Louisville. He told supporters that he wants Polis to refund the $1,000 donation he made to him in the 2008 Democratic primary.
“Congressman — when you watch this on Youtube — pay attention to this: you have let me down,” Weissmann said. “You broke your promise to be pro-market, and you do not embody the pro-liberty values you led me to believe we shared. You have put the interests of your political party first. Jared, I want my money back.”
Weissmann said he primarily plans to self-fund his campaign, but declined to say how much he’d be willing to spend. He emphasized, however, that there is “no way” he can “out-Jared Jared,” who he described as the “richest Democrat in the House.”
In the 2008 election, Polis contributed $5,992,550 to his own campaign, which amounted to 81 percent of the money he raised that year. In 2010, Polis spent $834,917 of his own money, more than doubling what he raised from outside donations.
Like Polis, Weissmann comes from a business background, although his path to success was considerably less traditional.
When he was 15 years old, Weissmann dropped out of Fairview High School in Boulder to start his own business designing computer software for research and polling, as well as software for the management of dental and chiropractic clinics.
Weissmann went on to earn his GEP degree and enroll in a program for non-traditional students run by the University of the State of New York. The program was based on written examinations, which allowed him to stay in Colorado while he earned his degree.
He later earned his MBA from the University of Colorado in Boulder. In 2000, Weissmann left Decisioneering — the software company he founded at age 21 — to focus on acquiring and investing in small companies.
Weissmann doesn’t see much similarity between his entrepreneurship and the business experience of Polis.
“I started closer to nothing than he did,” Weissmann said. “He describes himself as self-made, but he started from a pretty prosperous family.”
According to Weissmann, however, the lessons he learned from his business experience were more instructive than the path he took to get there.
“I look at the challenges that I’ve faced with regulation and healthcare, and all those things have gotten worse with the policies that Polis has voted for,” Weissmann said.
Chad Rathbun, Weissmann’s campaign coordinator, said that they have not yet decided whether they plan to petition onto the ballot or go through assembly for the party nomination.
Last Thursday, Weissmann released a statement in support of the STOCK Act, a bill that seeks to put an end to congressional insider trading.
Polis has come under fire for accusations of insider trading made against him in a book written by Peter Schweizer. The episode prompted Polis to write an op-ed for The Denver Post in defense of his record.
When asked if he thought Polis was guilty of insider trading, Weissmann said he didn’t want to discuss the validity of the accusations. “But, I do wish the congressman would have avoided even the appearance of these challenges,” he said.
Weissmann said there are many policy differences between himself and the incumbent, but leveled a specific criticism over Polis’ vote against the SOAR act, a bill to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
House Democrats were nearly united in their opposition to the bill, with only one Democrat voting in favor of the legislation.
Polis campaign spokesman Lisa Kaufmann responded to the criticism by stating, “Jared Polis is an established leader on education reform and successfully passed bipartisan legislation to expand charter schools in a Republican-controlled House.”
She continued, “In his short time in Congress he’s worked hard to reignite the American Dream by reducing our deficit, creating jobs, reforming the tax code, and strengthening public education in Colorado.”
As for his primary opponent, Weissmann drew a contrast between himself and Lundberg in the realm of social conservatism.
“The real policy differences between Senator Lundberg and I are in the role of government,” Weissmann said. “I am very much of the belief that a society with a limited government means you have a broad zone of privacy, whereas Senator Lundberg believes that it is reasonable to use government to achieve socially conservative ends.”
Weissmann mentioned a bill Lundberg had written that would mandate couples with children under the age of 18 to observe a “cooling-off” period before filing for divorce. Lundberg never actually introduced the bill in the legislature but was considering it.
Lundberg identified himself as a libertarian with certain socially conservative beliefs.
“In terms of my using the government to get involved in peoples’ lives,” Lundberg said, “If you take the sum total of my work from the legislature, I’m about as close as you can get to a libertarian perspective.”
Lundberg went on to say that he does believe that “life, including the life of the unborn,” is “an important component” that government needs to protect. He also said he is “a staunch defender of the family.”
Last Wednesday, Weissmann issued a press release rolling out a series of endorsements from other Republicans.
The release listed endorsements from Bob Greenlee, former Boulder mayor and a former candidate for the CD 2 seat before Polis took office; Aislinn Kottwitz, Fort Collins City Councilwoman; Josh Penry, former Senate Republican leader; Steve Schuck, Colorado Springs businessman and former candidate for governor; Katie Witt, Longmont City Councilwoman; and Rob Witwer, former state Representative from Jefferson County.
Lundberg was surprised to hear about Weissmann’s powerful endorsements, but did not seem concerned.
“I’m confident I could get a lot of good endorsements,” Lundberg said. “I actually have some, but I haven’t gone public with them at all.”
Lundberg emphasized that he has no interest in dividing the party and that he supports the democratic process.
“My objective in the primary is to give the Republicans a good robust discussion on policies,” Lundberg said. “I’m not saying that I’m not ever going to have an endorsement published, but it’s not at the top of my agenda. The endorsements I want are from the voters.”
Weissmann said he is the only candidate in the district race who offers a “pro-liberty, pro free-market” approach.
“I focus on reducing the interference of government in our lives and in our businesses,” he said.
The Weissmann campaign has two staffers: Campaign Coordinator Chad Rathbun and Finance Director Carolyn Bian-Lingle, who previously worked on Congressman Joe Wilson’s campaign in South Carolina. Alan Philp is a consultant for the campaign.
Daniel Scarpinato, the western regional press secretary of the National Republican Congressional Committee, declined to comment on the candidates, saying that the NRCC does not get involved in Republican primaries.