Marked by attack ads, robo-calls and nasty e-mails, disagreement among local Republicans this primary season has been plentiful.
Open debate, however, has been in much shorter supply, and this Tuesday evening roll-out of candidates endorsed by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce looks to continue that trend.
The Chamber introduces the candidates it is supporting in the primary: Kit Roupe, who is running against Sheila Hicks in state House District 17; Mark Waller, who is trying to unseat Rep. Douglas Bruce in House District 15; and, to the most fanfare, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
The freshman congressman has avoided any questioning alongside rivals Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn leading up to this year's Republican primary on Aug. 12. And on this evening, Lamborn's not about to engage with his Democratic opponent from the 2006 race.
"I'm curious why you never served [in the military]," Jay Fawcett says from the audience early in a question-and-answer period.
Lamborn replies mildly that he "had a different direction," and at one point considered doing missionary work.
Later, Fawcett asks if Lamborn would support ending subsidies to oil companies.
Giving only a slight impression of being ruffled, Lamborn answers, "No."
"I do not agree with the premise of your question or your question," he says after briefly defending subsidies.
And just like that, a policy matter that could be debated is put to rest. Instead, we end up with discussion about one man's dislike of compact fluorescent light bulbs. (Lamborn takes a stand for personal choice as he sympathizes with the man, who wants to bring back the old incandescent.) Fawcett's is the most challenging voice in a crowd of 70 people at Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.
Beyond Lamborn's reluctance to debate with people whose policy positions are largely identical to his ostensibly leaving personal attacks as the most likely fodder divisions in the party help explain why a final chance for a 5th CD debate, scheduled for Aug. 4, was canceled.
It was to be hosted by a local chapter of a new national group called Coalition for a Conservative Majority and was to air on KRDO radio. But Lamborn claimed a scheduling conflict. There was talk about doing it later in the week, but Lamborn says discussions fell apart.
Kyle Fisk, a former candidate for state Legislature and a Crank supporter, says he made every effort as president of the local CCM chapter to accommodate Lamborn and hold a fair event.
When rescheduling failed, the group planned to hold the event with just Crank and Rayburn. But national leaders of CCM, a group founded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, insisted holding the event with the two challengers would give the impression of backing them, Fisk says.
"In my opinion, they were protecting the incumbent," Fisk says.
Fisk promptly resigned his volunteer post with CCM.
Meanwhile, the district attorney race between Dan May and incumbent John Newsome has hinged in large part on community reaction to Newsome's publicized drinking episode, with several elected leaders taking different sides. And the Waller-Bruce race has seen the Republican establishment line up against an incumbent still beloved by many tax-averse citizens.
Style over substance
These types of squabbles mark an unusual time for local Republicans. Josh Dunn, a political science professor at UCCS, says the 5th CD race is particularly odd, given the nearly identical views of the three contenders.
"They would probably vote 99.9 percent in unison in Congress," Dunn says.
The race is about style, with Crank and Rayburn both questioning Lamborn's ability as a leader and sifting through his record for the slightest morsel of dirt. And there's a lot at stake, since the district is a peach for the GOP; Fawcett lost by a margin of nearly 60-40 in 2006 even with the backing of some Republicans.
"Everyone recognizes whoever wins the Republican nomination is basically getting a union card," Dunn says.
(Democrat Hal Bidlack, who will face the winner of the Republican primary in November, hopes to prove this assumption wrong.)
Lamborn supporters are miffed about having to relive the 2006 primary, a six-way race in which Lamborn beat Crank by a margin of only 892 votes. Rayburn finished third.
"There have been some very minimal charges," says Mark Shook, a Republican precinct committee chairperson in Falcon.
He notes that one line of attack on Lamborn has claimed he supported raising taxes in 1982 when he was running for the legislature in another state: "It has to do with something Doug Lamborn said 26 years ago to someone in Kansas."
Shook wishes there was a healthy debate and discussion of the issues, and he calls the current race divisive and dispiriting. He's not sure if fracture lines from this year's primary will widen as time goes on.
"I'm not expecting lasting damage," Shook says, "but I'm certainly concerned about it."