The Boulder businessman and 2nd Congressional District GOP candidate who wants to “fire Jared Polis” — Eric Weissmann — is on the radar, in more ways than one.
On Monday, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that Weissmann has qualified as an “On the Radar” candidate, meaning he has cleared benchmarks in fundraising, grassroots organization, and media strategy. “On the Radar” candidates are a step below “Contender” candidates, who are a step below the national party’s top tier “Young Guns.” In any case, it means the national party is paying attention to Weissmann.
The announcement came less than a week after Weissmann emerged unscathed from court battles with the Colorado Democratic Party over the status of his ballot petition in Denver District Court, and an article published by the left-leaning blog, The Colorado Independent, which raised questions about the candidate’s history of late tax payments.
According to Boulder County public records, four tax liens were filed on residential properties owned by Weissmann from 1983 to 1995, including one in February of 1995 for $75,000. The latest tax lien was released in 1997.
Weissmann believes both the court battle and the digging into his tax records are examples of a “clearly stated preference” by state Democrats to run against the other Republican candidate in the race, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, a more pronounced conservative.
“They know I fit the district a lot better,” Weissmann said.
Lundberg told The Colorado Statesman that the Democrats “could take that attitude at their own peril,” if they do in fact have a preference to face him over Weissmann, but added that it was all speculation.
The state Senator spoke about the cordial relationship he has had with Weissmann during the primary campaign, and even defended his opponent from the attacks on his tax record, saying he found it disappointing when “the political rhetoric gets into areas that don’t really deal with policy.”
“When you start digging way back into somebody’s past and find some failure that they have had or reportedly had, I think that’s a distraction,” Lundberg said.
Matt Inzeo, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party, felt that the candidate’s tax history raised substantial questions over the ability of Weissmann to hold the public trust as a member of Congress.
“We’re not talking about a guy who filed at 12:04 a.m. or a rounding error where he underpaid his taxes,” Inzeo said. “We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars over multiple years.”
But Weissmann’s feeling of having a bull’s eye on his chest may not be entirely unfounded.
Mario Nicolais, Weissmann’s attorney from the Hackstaff Law Group in Denver, said that he couldn’t find any other examples of either the state Democratic or Republican parties meddling in the legal issues of the other party’s primary process.
Inzeo said that he couldn’t think of a time when that has happened before either, but emphasized that the party only got involved to “ensure that standards for gathering signatures and submitting them remains consistent for every candidate.”
Nicolais, on the other hand, believes the Democrats went to court out of “strategic political interest.” He said that during cross-examination, he questioned the executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, Alec Garnett, about why the Democrats had only proposed signatures to be rejected, and none that they felt should be validated, if they indeed were involved only to ensure the integrity of the process.
Inzeo rebuffed the insinuation, telling The Colorado Statesman, “I’m not sure where Mario Nicolais begins to tell us what our interests are in the case. That’s up to us.”
If the Colorado Democratic Party does have a preference for facing Lundberg over Weissmann, it likely has a lot to do with fundraising, as well as concerns that Weissmann’s more moderate social stances would better appeal to voters in the district.
In the first quarter of reporting for the 2012 election cycle, which spans Jan. 1 to March 31, Weissmann outraised Lundberg $138,911 to $13,507, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission. Weissmann himself donated $29,858 of the contributions.
The next reporting period is in June, after the legislative session is over, which would free up more time for Lundberg to fundraise.
Weissmann ended the quarter with $103,143 cash on hand, compared to Lundberg’s $23,558, but their numbers combined don’t amount to even half of incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Polis’ total cash on hand, which sits at $341,894.
Polis also heavily outspent his Republican opponents in the quarter, spending $123,137 compared to Weissmann’s $35,768 and Lundberg’s $13,507. The incumbent received $320,807 in contributions for the quarter, and wrote the checks himself for $54,600 of that total.
But more of Polis’ personal wealth can always be tapped if the race be-comes tight. During his first campaign for Congress in 2008, Polis spent more than $5.6 million of his own money.
If there is one area where Lundberg holds a clear advantage over Weissmann, it’s Larimer County, which makes up nearly 43 percent of the newly redrawn district’s active registered voters, according to the latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office.
Lundberg first ran for office in Larimer County in 1998, narrowly losing to incumbent Democrat Stan Matsunaka in the race for Senate District 15.
But Lundberg won his next bid, for House District 49 in 2002, and has been a fixture in Larimer County politics ever since. He served four consecutive terms in HD 49 before being appointed to SD 15 by a vacancy committee in 2009.
Larimer County Republican Party Chairman Michael Fassi described Lundberg as a “strong advocate” for the county and said that, at this point, there is obviously more familiarity with Lundberg in the county than there is with Weissmann.
“So, Eric is going to have to come into Larimer County and let people know who he is,” Fassi said.
Despite his familiarity with Larimer County voters, Lundberg said he isn’t taking anything for granted, and that his campaign has done their “due diligence in connecting with the voters there.” He also emphasized that CD 2 includes parts of nine other counties, and that the campaign was “pretty active” in those areas as well.
Weissmann, for his part, said he has been to every county in the district at least twice, and has traveled to Larimer County every week. He said there has been a marked shift in the voters he has spoken with, in that they now believe the 2nd CD race is competitive.
“There’s a real recognition now that this race isn’t a slam dunk for the Democrats,” Weissmann said.
The latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office, filed on May 1, certainly back that up.
Democrats now make up 33.39 percent of the newly redistricted 2nd CD’s active registered voters, with Republicans trailing close behind with 31.61 percent. Unaffiliated voters amount to 34.02 percent, and 0.98 per-cent of voters belong to minor parties.
In addition to the recognition by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Weissmann enjoyed some local endorsements as well this week.
The candidate sent out a press release on Tuesday announcing endorsements from former Lt. Governor and 2010 U.S. Senate hopeful Jane Norton; Aurora City Councilman and former 7th CD candidate Ryan Frazier; state Rep. Cheri Gerou, former state Sen. and 2nd CD candidate Sandy Hume, former state Rep. Eric Schmidt, Larimer County Treasurer Myrna Rodenberger, and 2010 2nd CD Republican nominee Steve Bailey.
Although most Democrats say they aren’t worried about Polis’ reelection bid, what appears to be have been an unprecedented day in court for the Colorado Democratic Party may tell a different story.
As for Weissmann, he’s looking forward to focusing on the primary election, now that his legal troubles appear to be behind him.
“I’m certainly happier now to be defending liberty and free enterprise than I was to be in court defending ballot signatures,” Weissmann said.