BROOMFIELD – State Sen. Scott Renfroe edged Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck for the top spot on the Republican primary ballot for the open 4th Congressional District seat at a GOP district assembly on Friday.
At other district assemblies held the same day, challengers surprised U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn by winning enough delegate votes to force primaries against the incumbents.
Republican candidates, delegates, devotees and assorted politicians crowded the lobbies and ballrooms at the Omni Interlocken Hotel all day as a heavy schedule of congressional and legislative district assemblies unfolded the day before Saturday’s state GOP assembly up the road in Boulder.
Renfroe won 54 percent of the delegate vote to Buck’s 46 percent. It takes 30 percent support to win a berth on the primary ballot. They could face two other Republicans in the June 24 primary: Weld County Commissioner Barabara Kirkmeyer and Larimer County businessman Steve Laffey, the former mayor of a town in Rhode Island, both turned in petitions last week, although officials hadn’t determined whether they were sufficient yet at press time. None of the Republican candidates have been in the race longer than six weeks. The two-term incumbent, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, stunned state political circles at the end of February when he let it be known he was dropping his bid for reelection and would instead challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. Buck had been running for the Senate seat but immediately switched to the House race and within a week the other candidates had launched campaigns.
Buck, who lost the closest U.S. Senate race in the country four years ago against Democrat Michael Bennet, said his recent battle with cancer made him an even stronger supporter of Republican solutions.
He told delegates he was diagnosed with lymphoma a year ago and after a course of chemotherapy is now free of the disease.
“That is a God thing and that is a testament to American medicine, and we cannot allow American medicine to go downhill,” he said. “I will vote to repeal Obamacare and I will vote to replace it with a free-market, patient-centered health care system.”
“I’m a fighter and I have a lot of fight left in me,” Buck continued. “I have fought for justice, as a prosecutor, and won. I have fought cancer and won. And with your help, I will go to Washington D.C. and fight the professional politicians, and we will win.
Calling himself a small-business owner and “not a politician,” Renfroe laid out an unwaveringly conservative platform.
“Our country is in trouble,” he said. “Our government doesn’t trust you. Washington doesn’t think that your character is trustworthy. They believe that they must make every decision for you, and they have to tell you to do your job and how to live your life. This must change.”
In a jab at Buck, Renfroe emphasized his solid support for the personhood amendment, which states that life begins at conception and has been rejected twice by Colorado voters, although it’s back on the ballot this year.
“I’m committed to protecting life and will never waver, never backpedal in my commitment to protecting the unborn or in my support for personhood,” he said.
Buck withdrew his support for the ballot measure during his Senate race in 2010 but his wife, state Rep. Perry Buck, R-Greeley told delegates that Phyllis Schlafley and the anti-abortion Eagle Forum endorsed her husband. “Phyllis knows Ken is going to fight for life forever for the unborn,” she said.
Kirkmeyer addressed the assembly — boasting about Weld County’s sound fiscal footing and her own agricultural background and conservative bona fides — but was jeered by a few Republicans after announcing she was releasing her delegates and would count solely on her petition rather than ask for assembly support.
While some Republicans expressed mild surprise at Renfroe’s win, it was the unexpected primaries in both the 3rd and 5th congressional districts that stunned many observers.
Retired Air Force Major Gen. Bentley Rayburn — who has faced Lamborn in primaries twice before — announced his challenge just two weeks earlier and came out swinging.
Calling it “a tough conversation,” Rayburn said Lamborn has dropped the ball in a safe Republican district. He faulted the incumbent for routinely touting his high scores from organizations and publications that rank lawmakers based on how conservative they are. “Let’s not chase ratings,” he said. “Let’s get something done.”
Some delegates scowled, however, when Rayburn closed by saying he won’t put his wife on the payroll — “that is nepotism, pure and simple” — a swipe at Lamborn, whose wife, Jean, has handled some campaign duties.
“I will continue working for conservative values with all my heart and all my soul,” Lamborn said.
After listing numerous organizations that have pegged him as a top conservative, Lamborn told delegates, “Go with someone who walks the walk, not just someone who talks the talk.” He added, “Folks, I’ve been voting right, I’ve been fighting liberals and I’ve been getting results.”
Lamborn received 63 percent of the delegate vote and Rayburn got 37 percent.
Tipton’s opponent, Palisade peach farmer David Cox, a self-described libertarian conservative, won 34 percent of the delegate vote to the incumbent’s 66 percent.
“I assert that I seek this office for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to expose, attack and destroy the criminal operation that has corrupted our government and destroys our precious Republic,” Cox said.
He concluded by calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama for violating the War Powers Act, giving “bailouts to his cronies,” and for suppressing information on various scandals, including “the controlled demolitions on 9/11.”
The next day in Denver, Democrats nominated Retired Air Force Major Gen. Irv Halter to run in the 5th CD and former state Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, to run in the 3rd CD.
It will be the fourth time in five elections that Lamborn has faced a primary for the conservative Colorado Springs-based seat. In 2006, Lamborn won the open seat after defeating five Republicans, including Rayburn. The next time around, Rayburn and another candidate were on the primary ballot but Lamborn prevailed. Lamborn didn’t face a primary in 2010. Businessman Robert Blaha challenged the incumbent in 2012 but lost by a wide margin.
Tipton won a primary against tea partier Bob McConnell in 2010 and went on to unseat U.S. Rep. John Salazar.
In other assemblies held in Broomfield on Friday, former Boulder County Republican chairman George Leing won the nomination to run against three-term Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the 2nd Congressional District with 74 percent of the vote, keeping Bob Corner and Larry Sarner off the ballot. Republicans in the 1st Congressional District nominated Denver businessman Martin Walsh to take on 10-term Democrat Diana DeGette.
See the April 18 print edition for full photo coverage.