Lundberg looking at race against incumbent Polis

Other Republicans also weighing bids in 2012
The Colorado Statesman

In a possible match-up he acknowledges would be “kind of a David and Goliath competition,” one of the most conservative members of the Colorado Legislature announced late last week that he’s exploring a run against one of the state’s most powerful — and wealthiest — gay politicians.

Following court approval of new congressional district lines on Dec. 5, Republican state Sen. Kevin Lundberg launched an exploratory committee and website aimed at deciding whether he should challenge two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis now that the 2nd District encompasses Lundberg’s home in Larimer County and is no longer dominated by Polis’ base in Boulder County.

Republican sources said at least two other GOP candidates could announce in coming weeks, including another wealthy Boulder investor who could give Polis a run for his money.

Lundberg told The Colorado Statesman he might be willing to step aside if a stronger Republican challenger emerges, but for now he’s weighing his options.

“I’ll back the best candidate we’ve got,” Lundberg said. “It may come down to a decision we’ll make through caucus, assembly and primary process,” he said, adding that if he winds up in a primary, he’ll offer himself as an alternative and wouldn’t “do anything on my part to weaken anybody.”

It’s important that Republicans keep their eyes on defeating Polis, Lundberg said.

“My goal is that we launch the strongest campaign we can for conservative principals, and that falls under the Republican banner,” he said. “I am quite willing to look at who else might throw their hat in the ring — especially during this exploratory time.”

Although Lundberg was the only Republican to declare his interest in the race by press time, Republican sources confirmed that Boulder-based investment manager Eric Weissmann was also looking at a possible run.

A certified “Defender of Capitalism” via the conservative Leadership Program of the Rockies, Weissmann works as managing director of the Boulder-based investment firm Kachi Partners. He told The Statesman he was traveling outside the country this week with only intermittent access to email but would have a comment “soon.”

Once it became clear what the district might look like — on paper, the newly drawn 2nd District is more competitive than the old one, with Democrats holding only a 4-point advantage over Republicans among registered voters — Lundberg said he began considering a run.

“When I looked at that,” he said, “I thought, wait a minute, hey, I don’t like the idea of the current representation in the 2nd CD. And that’s the general feeling of all the conservative folks in Larimer County.”

A contest between Polis and Lundberg, the Berthoud Republican said, would give voters a stark choice.

“I trust it’ll be an interesting competition of ideas,” he said.

When Lundberg tweeted that he was considering a run, Democrats and progressives almost immediately pounced, pointing to the Republican’s history of taking hard-line positions on controversial topics, including birth control, gay marriage, immigration policy and concerns about climate change.

A Polis spokeswoman declined to comment specifically about a potential run by Lundberg or other Republicans but said the incumbent intends to campaign just as hard as he always has.

“I don’t have much to say about potential Republican challengers,” said campaign manager Lisa Kaufmann. “The Republican party will choose their candidate.” Regardless, she added, “Accessibility and accountability are a trademark of Jared’s leadership style, so he will work hard to earn the support of the voters of the 2nd Congressional District. We plan to run a robust campaign just like we did in 2008 and 2010.”

Polis survived a scathing, three-way primary in 2008 to win his party’s nomination and has cruised to victory since, winning the general election by nearly 30 points that year and defeating his GOP challenger by roughly 20 points in 2010. When he was elected, Polis became the first openly gay candidate to win a freshman seat in Congress.

Lundberg stressed to The Statesman that he’s only gauging support and hasn’t made a final decision, but he also made clear that he isn’t concerned about being outspent by Polis.

“If it’s a question of just dollars and cents, he wins,” Lundberg said. “But if it’s a matter of the people making a decision about who they want to represent them, I believe it’s a very different picture.”

Adding that he has “every intention of being as out-of-the-box as possible,” Lundberg said he believes that social networking and other Internet tools have leveled the field to an extent traditional politicians might not have grasped.

“I don’t believe dollars vote — people vote. Dollars have an effect, but so do people,” he said.

Even if dollars aren’t yet enfranchised, Polis still has piles of them and has shown no reluctance to dip into his personal fortune to get elected.

Polis ranked as the richest House Democrat last year, lagging behind only three Republicans in the chamber, according to an analysis of financial disclosure documents released by the Center for Responsive Politics a month ago. The Internet entrepreneur — he parlayed his family’s modest greeting-card business into a series of massive returns when the online world was taking shape — is worth between $57 million and $228 million, according to 2010 disclosure documents.

After spending around $1 million in 2000 to win a seat on the State Board of Education — outspending his opponent by roughly 100-to-1 and squeaking to election by under 100 votes — Polis poured $6 million into the primary campaign for his congressional seat in 2008. He’s also established himself as a generous donor and prodigious fundraiser for Democratic candidates and causes since. (Polis was also one of the notorious “Four Horsemen” who turned Colorado politics on its head during the last decade by helping fund the establishment of organizations devoted to electing Democrats.)

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com