(This column first appeared on ColoradoPolitics.com)

For the past month, I’ve written about my 2008 run for the US Congress. These essays have looked inward, at my campaign and the lessons I learned from running. In this essay, please allow me an outward look at my Republican opponents, and to let me swap out my partisan “candidate” hat for my old and battered political science professor at USAFA hat. I’m going to try to be both insightful and a wee bit profound. Wish me luck.

The US Constitution requires a census be taken every 10 years for the purpose of enumeration –  or more simply put, counting folks to figure out how many representatives in the US House each state should have. This is why the political parties are particularly obsessed with the state legislatures in the elections right before and right after a census, because those legislatures will end up redrawing congressional districts, based on the census results.

Colorado is no different from the other 49 states in that the Democratic and Republican parties seek to maximize their electoral advantages by gerrymandering the heck out of congressional districts every ten years.  Your own partisanship will help you decide which party is acting more “fairly” and which party is disingenuously trying to grab seats unfairly, but ultimately, across the country, the Dems and the GOP will argue mightily after the decennial census.[1]

Because of the gerrymandering of Colorado, wherein both parties appear to have decided to give each other one truly “safe” seat, the Democratic candidate in the 2nd District (Boulder and beyond) is really tough to beat, and in CD 5 (Colorado Springs and beyond), the Republican candidate is considered unbeatable. Win the appropriate party’s primary in those two districts and you will, very likely, coast to a comfortable victory come November.

Those with a long enough memory will recall that the 5th was represented for many years by a man named Joel Hefley. Congressman Hefley was widely respected across the political spectrum. He was a likeable and competent representative who often garnered upwards of 75% of the vote, meaning a number of Democrats felt comfortable in voting for this moderate and thoughtful gentleman.

This changed in 2006, when Mr. Hefley announced his retirement from Congress. Thus an “open seat” was created in what was considered the safest of the safe Republican congressional slots. Win the GOP primary in 2006, avoid key mistakes,[2] and you would almost certainly win the general election in the Fall.

Thus, the 2006 open Republican primary saw no less than SIX candidates, including Mr. Hefley’s former senior staffer, Jeff Crank, the then-Mayor of Colorado Springs, Lionel Rivera, a retired 2-star general, Bentley Rayburn, and a State Senator named Doug Lamborn. As one might expect, the primary campaign was – to use the traditional term – “hard fought” with accusations of naughty behavior abounding. Crank, Lamborn, and Rayburn proved to be the most powerful candidates. When the votes were counted (with much yelling and objecting), Mr. Lamborn had edged Mr. Crank by 892 votes, less than 2%, with General Rayburn a close third.  All this happened while I was still on active duty with the Air Force, and so my perspective was that of a poli sci professor. It was messy and hinted at a circular firing squad, with a take-no-prisoners attitude all-round.

Two years later, when I tossed my hat into the ring. I found myself in a campaign against not one, but rather three people. This was because, unlike nearly every other congressional campaign in America, the incumbent congressman was challenged by members of his own party, in a primary. And it wasn’t just one person who had the audacity to take on a sitting Member, it was two – both Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn, upset by the manner in which the last primary had been run, sought the GOP nomination for CD5. That meant there were three Republicans and one lone Democrat seeking the seat – Lamborn, Crank, Rayburn, and little old me.

I was invited to take part in a series of debates with the Republican candidates, and I happily accepted. At all these events, there were just three of us. Mr. Crank and General Rayburn would attend from the GOP side, and I was there as the Democrat, but Mr. Lamborn never showed up. This was smart politically, in that showing up would, in some minds, acknowledge publically that he was being challenged, and that might demonstrate weakness. But I do think it irritated his challengers.

For me, it was very interesting to watch. I genuinely liked and continue to like, both Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn. We disagree on… well… nearly everything, but they are good men who believe, as do I, that the government can do a better job of serving the American people. We just really, really disagree on what needs fixing and how.

But even though I liked both gents, I was mystified as to why they were both running. If you add up the votes from the 2006 primary, Mr. Lamborn only earned 27% of the Republican votes. His top two opponents – Crank and Rayburn — took in a combined 42%, with the remainder spread across the other three vote getters. This would imply that either Crank or Rayburn could possibly beat Mr. Lamborn one-on-one, but that if they split the GOP opposition vote, Mr. Lamborn’s re-nomination was virtually assured. Yet both men stayed in the race all the way to the primary election day.[3]  Thus the Republican congressional candidates neatly arranged themselves into what might be called a circular political firing squad and opened fire, with the result being neither of them beating Mr. Lamborn. So much for 2008.

But history seems intent on repeating itself in 2018. Currently two Republicans have jumped into the primary campaign in an effort to take the GOP nomination away from Mr. Lamborn – State Senator Owen Hill and El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn. Both gentlemen would seem to be strong contenders to defeat Mr. Lamborn.[4]

Mr. Hill appears to be a smart and able state legislator. Though I disagree with him on nearly every issue you could mention, there is no denying his appeal to conservative voters, and he has already amassed a war chest of nearly a quarter of a million dollars just for the primary.[5]

Darryl Glenn is, in theory, also a strong contender to win a primary against Mr. Lamborn. Glenn, like Hill, is a retired Air Force officer, which plays well in this district.[6] Mr. Glenn is well-known in the area, and ran against my old boss for the US Senate in 2016.

So once again the Republicans seem to be in the process of forming that same circular firing squad we saw in 2006.  A fairly weak incumbent, and two stronger-than-average challengers, seek the GOP nomination in 2018. If history is instructive in this case, it seems likely that the Hill/Glenn duo will split the opposition vote, leaving Mr. Lamborn safe for another two years of relative ineffectiveness in DC. Will there be a Hill-Glenn deal to have one drop out if the other is stronger? It could happen. But were I a betting man, I’d guess not.  Perhaps it’s time to take off my old and frayed professor hat and to put on a helmet. It may be a bumpy ride.

[1] Many readers will recall that some state legislatures have cheated a bit, and tried to redistrict out of cycle with the census. Texas was a fairly dramatic example of this power grab.

[2] Like most professions, there are “work terms” that are too crude to publish, but which fit the situation. Should you run into me on the street, feel free to ask me about the political term for what kind of situation would be required for a Republican to lose in CD5.

[3] There was talk of a deal, wherein one would drop out under certain circumstances, but I was not, of course, privy to any such discussions, so can only report on rumors.

[4] Mr. Lamborn, in 12 years in office, has not, shall we say, put together much of a legislative record. A kind way to put it might be to say that while he has been in office for more than a decade, he has yet to make a significant mark on legislative history. A less kind way would be to suggest he has been largely ineffective.

[5] https://coloradopolitics.com/republican-owen-hill-shatters-fundraising-record-primary-race-u-s-rep-doug-lamborn/

[6] Although, as a retired Air Force Lt Colonel myself, I can attest that mere military service is not enough to overcome the GOP advantage in CD 5.

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