BROOMFIELD, CO – Republicans could end up with a scenario that hasn’t happened in years, a contested primary for the 2nd Congressional district. Previously seen as a safe seat for incumbent Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder), with the last close race not occurring since 1998, the contours of the district were altered significantly in redistricting, making it suddenly competitive. That has attracted a steady stream of challengers into the race, with the current count of GOP candidates at three.
In 2010, Congressman Polis comfortably rode to re-election, winning by almost 20 points. When a Denver district judge adopted the Democrats’ proposed redistricting map, which was later upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, the district shifted to become what is now a 34% Democratic, 32% Republican and 33% Unaffiliated registration balance. Since redistricting was finalized in December, the district has seen a 2-point gain in Republican registration, providing further encouragement for the GOP challengers.
The current Republican contenders are Berthoud State Senator Kevin Lundberg, Boulder entrepreneur Eric Weissmann and perennial political candidate Tom Janich.
The first to enter the race was State Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who opened an exploratory committee in December and has since transitioned to a full campaign. Senator Lundberg has been in the State Legislature since winning a state House seat in 2002. He was appointed to his current state Senate seat in 2009, and later elected to a full four-year term in 2010 with 60% of the vote.
When he opened his exploratory committee in December, Lundberg said his goal was to get 1,500 people to sign on in support of his campaign. He reached that goal before the start of the legislative session in early January, which he says convinced him to jump into the race.
Lundberg says he is running because government “has grown too big for its britches” and he wants to “put government in its appropriate box.” But his ultimate goal, he says, is to defeat Jared Polis.
In early February, Boulder entrepreneur Eric Weissmann threw his hat in the ring. Weissmann has spent his career starting and investing in companies, including The Colorado Statesman notes, dropping out of high school at 15 to start his own software company.
While having no experience in elected office, Weissmann has been engaged in his community for much of his life, including stints as an advisor to the conservative Leadership Program of the Rockies and President of Colorado’s chapter of the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization, among other organizations.
Proving his conservative bona fides, Weissmann won the Leadership Program of the Rockies’ inaugural Defender of Capitalism award in 2008.
On his website Weissmann says “I’m running for Congress because I’m concerned that ours might be the first generation to break its promise to the next generation of a more free, better future; because I am frustrated and angry at the nonsense in Washington; and because I believe that only business and community leaders like me can make real change.”
The third candidate, Tom Janich, recently entered the race, the latest in a long line of long shot bids for public office. In 2008, Janich ran for the 7th Congressional district, but missed the 30% threshold of delegate votes at assembly to make it on the primary ballot. Janich currently lives in the 6th district, which is represented by Republican Congressman Mike Coffman.
When asked about critics who deride him as an “electoral hobbyist” or “yard-sign collector,” Janich says “I run because I can. I’m an American.”
The race, according to activists, operatives and elected officials, is likely to come down to a primary between Lundberg and Weissmann, with both men having significant advantages of their own.
Both Lundberg and Weissmann made clear in interviews with The Observer that they don’t intend on turning the race into a vicious and personal contest, but that contrasts are still necessary to inform the electorate of their differences.
Lundberg has an immediate advantage in name recognition, having served as an elected official from Larimer County for 10 years. In the primary, more than half of the votes are expected to come from Larimer, which had been in the 4th district prior to redistricting.
Whereas Lundberg has the leg up in name recognition, it appears Weissmann will have the advantage in fundraising and campaign organization. Weissmann has signaled his intent to invest large sums of his own funds into his campaign, but notes that it would be impossible to “out Jared, Jared,” in reference to the incumbent Congressman who spent nearly $7 million of his own money on his elections in 2008 and 2010.
Before getting in the race, Weissmann commissioned a poll by Magellan Strategies in Louisville, which showed Polis with weak favorability ratings and a mediocre chance at re-election.
Polis has had a string of bad press recently, with a 60 Minutes investigation into alleged insider trading in by Polis. He’s been accused of making investments based on non-public information he was privy to in his role on Congressional committees during the health care reform legislation.
As Polis was the leading funder on the ethics in government ballot initiative Amendment 41 in 2006, the GOP sees an opportunity to paint the incumbent as a hypocrite who doesn’t play by the same rules he expects others to.
To take on one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Weissmann has assembled a star studded team of endorsers and advisers. Former Republican National Committee Regional Political Director Alan Philp has signed on to advise Weissmann’s bid. Weissmann also rolled out a list of big name endorsements recently, including former Boulder Mayor Bob Greenlee, who was the last Republican to run a competitive race in the 2nd district back in 1998. Other notable backers include former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry and former State Representative Rob Witwer.
Despite the high profile endorsements, Weissmann is an unknown commodity to much of the district, both in name ID and ideology.
Former Republican Mayor of Fort Collins Ray Martinez, says “if he’s not a known commodity, he will have a tough road to hoe.”
Lundberg, on the other hand, has a long record as a conservative politician. Former Adams County GOP Chair and Republican activist Mary Dambman describes Lundberg as “wonderfully conservative.”
Lundberg himself points to his record as an advantage in the district, saying his record is “long enough to adequately prove what my votes would be in Congress.”
But Weissmann feels Lundberg’s record in the state legislature doesn’t fit well with the district, saying the district leans libertarian in nature, and is generally opposed to government intrusion, whether economically or on social issues.
“Senator Lundberg fit his [State Senate] district well, but his issue profile doesn’t fit with the broader 2nd Congressional district,” said Weissmann.
Lundberg has long been an outspoken social conservative, most recently generating controversy over a bill he wanted to run that would require married couples to take a government sponsored class before they were allowed to divorce. After significant push back from the conservative grassroots, Lundberg decided not to run the bill.
It is this type of legislation that Weissmann feels would harm Lundberg’s ability to win the race against Polis, making the general election more an exercise in futility than a real opportunity to beat Polis.
“Voters in the 2nd Congressional district have the opportunity to choose between someone running to make a point and someone running to make a difference,” said Weissmann.
Lundberg says he “makes no apologies” for his outspoken social conservative views, but notes it’s “not what I’m all about.”
Martinez senses that social conservative issues may not drive the primary electorate this year, saying social conservatives have “rang that bell so much people are tired of the bell.”
He says Republican primary voters are “concerned about social issues, but it’s a tight rope to walk. The issue of smaller government resounds much more loudly across the electorate.”
Perhaps sensing that a small government, economically-focused message that downplays social issues will perform better with a wider electorate, Weissmann is currently planning to petition onto the primary ballot. He says he hasn’t decided whether he will also go through the assembly process, but noted that strong conservatives like Congressman Mike Coffman have also gone through the petition process to get on the primary ballot.
Lundberg, who spoke to 30 precinct caucus meetings on February 7, the start of the assembly process, lauds the system as “the most grassroots system we can have.” Though, he notes, “it’s fine [to petition on the ballot], it’s part of the law.”
To get on the Republican primary ballot, candidates must either collect 1,000 signatures by April 2, or get at least 30% of the delegate vote at their respective Congressional district assemblies. The 2nd district assembly is on April 13 in Denver.
The primary is on June 26.