Robert Blaha says he's asked Congressman Doug Lamborn to debate no fewer than 16 times.
"I can't get him to respond," says Blaha. "I can't get him to debate."
Consider it the incumbent advantage. No matter how much your opponent presses for a debate, you generally can just ignore the issue.
"There's lots of people who would say that's good politics," says Jeff Crank, head of Americans for Prosperity in Colorado, "and you probably would find lots of strategists who would say that.
"I think that it's a bit disrespectful to voters."
When Crank ran against Lamborn in 2008, he couldn't get the congressman to debate then, either.
According to the Blaha campaign's spokeswoman, Ashlee Springer, they are willing to accommodate Lamborn's wishes for time, venue, you name it. KOAA-TV has made a standing offer to moderate any debate.
Lamborn's spokeswoman, Catherine Mortensen, declined to respond to requests for comment. But on Friday, the Indy caught up with Lamborn at a prayer meeting on the steps of Colorado Springs City Hall. When asked if he knew how many times Blaha had asked him to debate, Lamborn responded, "I don't care what his count is; I don't keep track of the guy."
The third-term congressman went on to question why his challenger would even want to step into the ring. "I'd think that he'd be afraid to debate," he says, "after I trounced him at the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition."
At the only forum the two have shared since Blaha announced his candidacy four months ago, the longtime businessman made a gaffe. While answering questions from the crowd of guns' rights supporters last month, Blaha stated that he opposes the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller — a decision that maintained the individual right to bear arms. Blaha has since clarified that he misspoke, and that he supports the Supreme Court's decision.
Pressed on the issue of a debate, Lamborn took a shot at Blaha's campaign financing. As of March 31, Blaha had contributed $375,000 to his own cause — 86 percent of his total fundraising haul, according to opensecrets.org.
"Just because someone has a bunch of money," Lamborn says, "and they get themselves on the ballot by paying for signatures on a petition, and they think that they can buy a seat in Congress, doesn't mean that I necessarily feel that justifies a debate. That is his and his children's money."
Blaha's take: "I think that's a convenient argument. But if you believe in your product and you are an entrepreneur, what do you do? You write checks. I believe in this product."
Campaign finance is a welcome conversation topic for Blaha, as he's attempting to make Lamborn's past use of earmarks a centerpiece of his campaign. Blaha argues that before Lamborn joined other Republicans in banning the roundabout funding mechanism, he used earmarks to reward campaign contributors. In a press release, Blaha cited two such earmarks, originally reported by the Gazette last year: a $1.6 million government contract for one donor, and a $800,000 contract for another.
Lamborn is a politician who rewards favored constituents, the Blaha campaign argues, while ignoring or even attacking others.
"I hear that from the most far-reaching groups you can imagine," says Blaha. "The refusal to meet, the refusal to collaborate, the refusal to talk — I don't know how you can be a U.S. representative and have that attitude."