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Primary's missing ingredient

Between the Lines

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Let's see, it's July of an even-numbered year, which means the Colorado primary election must be fast approaching.

Two Mondays from now, on July 19, mail ballots will go out — and thousands of El Paso County residents quickly will make their choices at the kitchen table, long before the actual election day of Aug. 10.

Once again, we have an array of races, and decisions to make on both political sides. There's the double-edged Senate battle, with two semifinalists in each party trying to make the November ballot — we'll have our endorsements in next week's edition — and Republican voters have to decide their choice for governor, as well as the heated county sheriff battle.

But something is missing this time, though many Pikes Peak region voters probably wouldn't be able to tell you what — or who — it is.

Ah, but Jeff Crank knows. All too well, in fact. He's that missing piece, at least on the Republican side. I hadn't thought about it until June 29 when Senate candidates Jane Norton and Ken Buck converged on Stargazers Theatre and Event Center for a much-anticipated debate, with about 400 overwhelmingly conservative residents spread around the large room.

And there, among the five people asking questions, was Crank, the second-place finisher to Doug Lamborn in both 2006 and 2008 for the Republican nomination to the 5th District U.S. House seat. The outspoken business consultant and radio talk-show host delivered some of that evening's sharpest points with his queries, and it was obvious that this audience (dominated by Tea Party types) held him in high regard.

Yet, the 43-year-old Crank isn't on the GOP ballot this time. He decided long ago not to put himself through another war against Lamborn, or anybody else.

Then, of course, the Tea Party came along. Angry conservatives began to mobilize, here and across the country, looking for candidates to support in their zealous quest to send Washington a blunt message.

Crank fits that mold, speaks the language, embraces the philosophy. If he were running against Lamborn in this primary, Crank might have achieved rock-star status by now. Heck, just going after Lamborn might not have been lofty enough. Crank might have been a better version of Buck or, for that matter, Dan Maes, in the race for governor.

Instead, Crank's on the sidelines, surely wondering how a better break with different timing might have affected his political life — in a huge way. (He was out of town and couldn't be reached to comment for this column.)

Certainly, having a Tea Party influence could have catapulted him to victory in 2006, when Lamborn edged him in a nasty six-way race. Lamborn resorted to unsavory tactics in the final days — accusing Crank of having a pro-homosexual agenda, which was very un-Republican (not to mention totally incorrect) and made big news at a critical time, leaving Crank damaged and without time to respond. Lamborn prevailed by fewer than 2,000 votes (12,801 to 10,876, or just 26.5 percent to 22.5 percent), and with no provision for a runoff that could have gone Crank's way.

Two years ago, despite widespread public frustration with Lamborn, Crank tried again. But he couldn't get traction, couldn't win over the local GOP establishment, and eventually fell victim to another shenanigan. After Crank and Bentley Rayburn agreed that one would withdraw if polls were unfavorable, Rayburn reneged — and the three-way split paved the way to another plurality win for Lamborn.

Other factors in 2008 worked against Crank. He couldn't seem to make headlines, and Lamborn totally got away with being a Teflon candidate, unwilling to debate until the very end, long after most ballots had been returned. Crank never got a strong message across, or excited the right audience, to develop enough momentum. The mess with Rayburn was the capper.

Now, though, that target audience is engaged and vociferous. Crank knows those people, and he can stoke their fire. In fact, Doug Lamborn is very lucky he doesn't have an opponent in 2010 with that kind of backing and weaponry.

Actually, let's go one step farther. If Jeff Crank were running this time, he might be punching his ticket to D.C.

routon@csindy.com

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