Boulder businessman Eric Weissmann is throwing his full support behind state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, after losing Tuesday’s Republican primary in Congressional District 2 to the social conservative lawmaker.
Weissmann had distinguished himself from Lundberg by veering away from the social conservative issues for which Lundberg has become known, including his strong opposition to same-sex civil unions and abortion.
But in the end, Weissmann’s moderate approach to politics was not enough to capture his party’s nomination in the nine-county CD 2, losing the race by about six percentage points. Lundberg received 21,465 votes, about 53.3 percent, compared to Weissmann’s 18,779 votes, about 46.6 percent.
Following redistricting, the district was redrawn to include about 43 percent of voters from Republican-leaning Larimer County, meaning incumbent Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, is facing a significant challenge — at least on paper — with 34 percent of active voters registered as Democrats, 32 percent Republicans, and 34 percent unaffiliated, according to the latest voter registration numbers from the secretary of state’s office.
Boulder County Republican Party Chairman Joel Champion noted the unique makeup of the district, especially in Boulder where he says there are many “conservative Democrats.”
“Given the statistical disparity between the parties in Boulder County, there is no way that a Republican would ever be elected if they depended only on the Republican vote, and particularly on a Republican social conservative vote,” said Champion.
Given the need to reach out to multiple factions in CD 2 to beat Polis, Weissmann told supporters that he is throwing his endorsement behind Lundberg in an effort to bring unity.
“When I called Kevin, I told him a little variation on what I’ve [been saying], I said, ‘Kevin, you’re the Republican that’s going to fire Jared Polis this November,’” Weissmann told supporters during his concession speech in a packed back room at the Walnut Brewery in Boulder. “We need to do our part to see that that happens.”
Easier race for Polis now?
The Weissmann campaign, as well as many political observers, had speculated that given the nearly equal distribution of unaffiliated voters in the district, Polis would have had a far harder time running against Weissmann’s more moderate stance rather than Lundberg’s social conservative perspective.
The Colorado Democratic Party became involved in a court case in April over the status of Weissmann’s attempt to petition onto the ballot rather than taking the more traditional course of seeking the nomination through the party assembly. Lawyers for the Democratic Party had argued for an invalidation of the signatures after the secretary of state’s office had declared the petition drive insufficient. Weissmann still won in court.
“It really demonstrates that they have serious concerns,” Weissmann said about the Democrats. “If they didn’t realize that Polis is vulnerable, they wouldn’t have paid lawyers to sit in court day after day, and they wouldn’t have paid a kid to follow me around with a camera.”
But Polis shrugged off the notion that he now faces an easier campaign against Lundberg, though he was hesitant to comment on his own campaign, pointing out that he is not a “pundit.” But he did say, “Those social issues don’t come up much in what my constituents are calling and writing about. People care about jobs, the economy… keeping college affordable, fighting fires — these are the issues that I’m working on, and I think that’s in tune with the district.”
Lundberg, however, said social issues will not be his focus. “That wasn’t the issue that I put forward before them, and that’s not the issue that I put forward day in, day out,” he said. “I’m pro-life and I support marriage and the Colorado Constitution, but that’s not the nuts and bolts of the political game that I’ve been playing down in the legislature.”
Lundberg is ready to fight
Lundberg, who has served in the legislature since 2003, cautioned against underestimating his abilities to motivate voters. He pointed out that despite lackluster fundraising compared to primary opponent Weissmann, he was still able to pull off his recent victory.
Weissmann raised $199,388, according to Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports through June 6. He contributed $46,501 to his own campaign. He received $500 from political consultant Laura Carno (who is also the producer for the Jeff Crank Radio Show — Crank is the state director for Americans for Prosperity); $2,500 from Charles Gallagher, chairman and chief executive of Gallagher Enterprises LLC, a private equity firm; $1,000 from Robert Greenlee, the former mayor of Boulder and a former CD 2 candidate; $250 from Joy Hoffman, chair of the Arapahoe County Republican Party; $2,500 from Terry Leprino, of Leprino Foods; $2,500 from Edward McVaney, the former chief executive of JD Edwards Corporation; $2,000 from Daniel Ritchie, chairman and chief executive of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the former chancellor of the University of Denver; $400 from state Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial; $1,250 from Paul Talmey, formerly of Boulder-based Talmey Research; $1,500 from Stephen Tebo, owner of Boulder-based Tebo Development Company; and $400 from Brian Watson, candidate for House District 3.
Lundberg raised $67,827 in the same time period.
He received $2,500 from former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University; $1,000 from beer baron and former 2004 U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors; $1,000 from Doug Bruce, the author of the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights who was recently released early from jail for tax evasion; $250 from state Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton; and $250 from former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs.
Fundraising will become even more critical as Lundberg faces millionaire Polis, who contributed more than $5.6 million of his own money to his first campaign in 2008. Polis shows $335,060 cash on hand, compared to Lundberg’s $13,281.
Still, Lundberg believes he has what it takes to beat Polis, despite his inability to compete in the fundraising arena.
“Most people think that money rules politics, but I have found that that is not necessarily so, and that’s what Eric brought to the table more than I did is money. But I bring people, and the people that know me best, and the ones that really endorsed me throughout this election are the people in Larimer, and I have known all along that if this 2nd Congressional, if it was just a matter of money, Eric would have been the overwhelming winner,” Lundberg said in a phone interview from his watch party on election night at Fossil Creek Park in Fort Collins.
“But if it’s a matter of people really getting engaged and involved, I am convinced that we have the message and the energy and the reason to be very competitive,” he continued. “I don’t see it as being a left-right issue, I see it as being a good limited government issue that is going to work one-on-one, person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor.”
Polis, who has served in Congress since 2009, also steered away from placing too much emphasis on fundraising, despite his qualified ability to do so. But he did acknowledge that, “Candidates who want to be successful need to be able to get their message out there, and there’s two key components to winning: one is working on issues voters care about, and two is communicating that.”
Mike Fassi, chairman of the Larimer County Republican Party, agreed that fundraising likely won’t be the key to the general election, but he does believe that social issues may help to motivate voters.
“It’s energizing,” he said. “I sat back and watched… and we saw a lot of people that hadn’t been energized like this in 20 years get up and volunteer to do stuff.”
Fassi added, “I think it’s going to take a Herculean effort, especially in some of those areas that Kevin’s
not as well known in, it’s going to be key to rally those conservatives and get them out there. But I can’t help but think that there’s going to be a big push.”
Having been longtime friends with Weissmann as fellow members of the Boulder business community, Polis did admit that it would have been exciting to run against him in the general election.
“Eric is someone who I’ve been friends with for close to 15 years, so it would have been fun to spend some time with him on the campaign trail… But Kevin seems like a gentleman and someone who I look forward to getting to know,” said Polis.
The race between Republicans Weissmann and Lundberg was cordial from the start. Even when Weissmann came under fire for late tax payments, Lundberg never seized the controversy to benefit his campaign. Lundberg says he expects to maintain respectful of his opponent throughout the general election, though he acknowledged that outside political interest groups could throw a wedge into the plan.
“I’m always at the risk of somebody else getting into the game, that’s completely out of your control, but I have no intention of doing it that way, and I don’t want anybody else to,” he said. “If national interests get involved, I hope they get involved with the truth.”
It remains to be seen whether the National Republican Congressional Committee will go to bat for Lundberg, as the organization seemed to forget about his presence during the primary, which is actually customary in contested races. The NRCC highlighted Weissmann, naming him to its “On the Radar” list, part of the organization’s “Young Guns” program established to identify strong candidates. The race in CD 2 this year has not been mentioned as a key target for Republican takeover though.
Weissmann loses despite endorsements and support
Weissmann lost the primary election despite the endorsements of such prominent Republicans as former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, former Senate Republican Leader Josh Penry, Reps. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, to name a few.
Nikkel, the House majority whip, sent out a fundraising solicitation for Weissmann, in which she derided her legislative colleague.
“…Kevin Lundberg (is not) the right nominee for this district. His agenda revolving around and highlighting social issues won’t help us defeat Polis and turn the economy around. At a time of tremendous economic and fiscal challenge in America, Kevin, as a career politician, continues to focus on divisive social issues, which is a distraction we simply cannot afford.”
Nikkel was the Republican legislator who helped get the same-sex civil unions bill out of committee during the session. Legislative leadership had criticized her for her action and some in the district considered her endorsement of Weissmann a kiss of death.
In the end, Weissmann was unable to get the turnout he needed, especially in Boulder County. Weissmann received 4,614 votes, about 65 percent, compared to Lundberg’s 2,525 votes, or 35 percent of the vote, but it still was not enough in that important county. Weissmann’s campaign had hoped for more than 70 percent of the vote in Boulder.
Consequently, in Larimer County, Lundberg won overwhelmingly, with 13,257 votes — or about 68 percent — compared to Weissmann’s 6,230 votes, or about 32 percent. Weissmann won all nine counties in the district, except for Larimer, but it wasn’t enough to propel him to victory.
The campaign still remained hopeful to the very end, and Weissmann in his concession remarks on Tuesday night said the efforts of his volunteers and supporters were not lost.
“A lot of people said you couldn’t be a liberty-oriented free market kind of Republican and make this kind of difference and we proved them wrong,” said Weissmann. “We have over 18,000 voters in this primary who agree with our vision for our future and for the future of the United States.”