Bidlack hunts for treasure on sacred GOP ground

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — With the defiance of David confronting Goliath, Democratic candidates are invading this conservative bastion to campaign for dollars and votes.

This week, presidential candidate Barack Obama scheduled a $1,000-a-person fundraiser and a policy speech on defense at The Broadmoor.

Even deeper in the conservative core of El Paso County, Hal Bidlack raised funds for his 5th Congressional District race in a Briargate home situated only a skip and hop from the New Life Church and the headquarters of Focus on the Family.

Briargate isn’t a sleepy bedroom community. It’s a hotbed of social conservatism that revolutionized the local GOP in the 1990s. That’s when its crusaders tossed out fiscally conservative party officers and replaced them with a slate of “family values” social conservatives that included Tom Minnery, a vice president of Focus on the Family.

Bidlack will face the winner of a three-way Republican primary contest that pits Doug Lamborn, the incumbent, against challengers Jeff Crank and Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn.

“I’m not praying, ‘Please God let me win.’ I’m praying, ‘Please don’t let me screw this up,’ ” Bidlack told about 50 Democrats at the fundraising “House Party with Hal” hosted by Briargate residents Patrick and Lisa Mieritz.

Patrick Mieritz recalled the glee of discovering fellow Democrats in a neighborhood overflowing with Republicans from the religious right. The tight-knit group of kindred spirits had contributed money and the food for the June 29 fundraising dinner.

Several wore “Hal’s Pal” lapel pins, awarded to those who donate $20 to Bidlack’s campaign, host a fundraising house party and serve on the phone banks. The campaign has scheduled at least two house parties a week throughout CD 5.

Bidlack said his campaign has raised about $100,000 of the $750,000 needed to campaign against the Republican candidate. If so, the campaign has made enormous strides since March, when Bidlack officially announced his candidacy. According to the first quarter Federal Elections Commission report, the campaign raised $5,381, and had $4,132 cash on hand at the time.

“We’ll run on whatever money we get,” said Bidlack, adding that he’s prepared to face any of the three Republican candidates.

The only difference between the Republicans would be “if Gen. Rayburn won the primary, I’d have to salute him,” chuckled Bidlack, a lieutenant colonel who retired in 2006 after serving 25 years in the military. Bidlack teaches political science as a civilian at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

By the sound of Bidlack’s stump speech, the Democrat anticipates running against the incumbent.

“I didn’t spend more than 25 years in the military to stand by and watch Doug Lamborn dishonor this country,” said Bidlack, accusing Lamborn of serving the Republican Party rather than the United States.

“When Doug Lamborn says he achieved a 99.7 percent rating for voting against the House Democrats, he’s putting partisanship ahead of getting things done,” Bidlack said. “When you’re elected to Congress, you take an oath to uphold the Constitution — not your political party.”

Although some laud Lamborn for helping to snare a veterans’ cemetery for El Paso County, Bidlack accused the incumbent of setting the wrong priorities.

“What we need is a veterans’ hospital instead of a cemetery. We need to take care of them while they’re alive!” declared Bidlack. The government is “good at making veterans, but not good at taking care of them.”

Applause thundered through the living room. Among the cheering Democrats were House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver; state Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs; El Paso County party chairman John Morris; attorney Pete Lee, candidate for Senate District 12; and Jan Hejtmanek, candidate for House District 20.

Bidlack told the assembly that George W. Bush had plunged the nation into crisis by pushing for the invasion of Iraq rather than demanding immediate pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attack.

“We fought the wrong enemy in the wrong time and in the wrong place,” Bidlack said.

“On Sept. 12, Bush said, ‘Go shopping,’” recalled Bidlack with a quizzical tone. “The day after 9/11, we’re told, ‘go shopping?’”

Despite his harsh criticism, Bidlack has made a standing offer to “break bread” with Republican candidates Lamborn, Rayburn and Crank.

“I wrote to each of them and suggested that the four of us go to IHOP for breakfast once a month,” said Bidlack, hoping that the foursome would get to like each other and that their camaraderie would eliminate personal attacks on the general election campaign trail.

“I never heard back from Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn,” he said. “Doug Lamborn called me and said he likes the idea. He showed a good sense of humor, and he was charming.”

Bidlack made a reciprocal peace offering to the incumbent when he found an anonymous package in his mailbox containing a CD critical of Lamborn’s positions on the issues.

“I didn’t listen to it,” Bidlack said. “I sent it to Doug Lamborn.”

Despite his high hopes, Bidlack faces an uphill battle in a congressional district that has elected Republican ever since its creation in 1972.

Bidlack, however, says he senses an “anti-incumbent” sentiment among Democrats, unaffiliated voters and even Republicans.

If voters want change, Bidlack says he can offer it, pledging to say, “ ‘no’ to special interests and ‘no’ to right-wing extremes.”