COLORADO SPRINGS – El Paso County is deemed a snapshot of Republican political sentiment in this region, but the results of the county GOP assembly ended up looking like a fractured family photo. At the end of a marathon event that drew more than 1,900 delegates and alternates, the Republicans face five primary contests in two county commissioner districts and three legislative seats.
The outcome defied conservative conventional wisdom in a critical election year to focus money and effort on defeating Democrat President Barack Obama, and expanding Republicans’ razor-thin majorities in the state House and gain seats in the Senate. Though polls show voters nationwide have anti-incumbent sentiment, here most primary contests are rooted in opposition to a single issue.
One primary was predictable after reapportionment maps, approved in December, moved House Majority Leader Amy Stephens from House District 20 into House District 19, a seat held by Rep. Marsha Looper.
The HD 19 contest exploded with a flurry of press releases, mailers, radio ads and phone banking. Looper accused Stephens of sponsoring Senate Bill 200 last year to establish a state healthcare insurance exchange that would roll out a red carpet to welcome the federal healthcare mandate, dubbed ObamaCare.
Stephens, whose bill was endorsed by numerous entities including the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the purpose was to foster affordable, competitive healthcare and maximize options – and keep ObamaCare out of Colorado.
Looper’s campaign launched another attack Saturday at the GOP assembly in LibertyHigh School. On the delegates’ chairs were reprints of a page from 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn’s website to promote his bills against ObamaCare. Highlighted and bolded was the statement, “Individuals forced into state run healthcare exchanges will pay at least $1 per month as a surcharge for elective abortions.”
Stephens’ campaign team, sporting shirts that said, “STEPHENS TRUTHTEAM,” talked to numerous delegates and handed out a green flyer to explain that ObamaCare does set up healthcare exchanges in states that don’t have them. Colorado’s healthcare exchange is under state control – not federal control – and does not cover abortions.
The flyer stated, “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Marsha Looper,” to some delegates that appeared to be an endorsement by Lamborn. The Congressman has not endorsed any candidate in the race.
Attorney General John Suthers, who is fighting the national healthcare mandate before the Supreme Court this week, nominated Stephens as a “social and fiscal conservative” who he’s known for two decades.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted when (Looper) accused her of being less than conservative,” declared Suthers. He said that Stephens had taken action to protect the state from federal-mandated ObamaCare.
In accepting the nomination, Stephens recounted how frustrating it was for Republicans be in the minority in both the House and Senate under Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter, and how critical it is to gain a larger majority in the House, take back the Senate, and defeat Obama in this election year.
She vowed to continue her fight against ObamaCare being forced on Colorado– “Not on my watch! Not on my watch!”
Nominating Looper, retired Air Force Major General Gar Graham said, “That bill has compromise the whole state of Colorado in our opposition of ObamaCare.”
Last year, former state Sen. Dave Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs) was so furious over the bill that he enlisted Graham to run against Stephens. But after redistricting and meetings with Graham and Looper, the General withdrew from the race and endorsed her.
“Marsha Looper puts principles and people before position and power,” declared Graham. He noted that Looper has been ranked the most conservative woman in the legislature by Colorado Union of Taxpayers and will “fight against progressives.”
Looper said, “I am deeply saddened and disappointed by this country’s invasion of our healthcare… And unfortunately it will also be covering abortion at taxpayers’ expense.”
“I know this is a controversial race with lots of conflicting statements,” admitted Looper, who asserted that all of her campaign materials are based on facts.
Several of Looper’s campaign statements have been challenged from an inaccurate assessment of the district voters reapportioned into HD 19 to under reporting Stephens’ CUT ratings. The campaign has fired most of its ammo on shooting down Stephens’ SB 200, coupling “AmyCare” with “ObamaCare.”
Stephens’ campaign sent a blast email countering that charge, and contending that Looper had voted for the Centennial Care Choices bill in 2008. “Marsha’s health care mandate, Centennial Care Choices, paved the way for an individual mandate, significantly increased spending and subsidies and required a tax hike to be implemented. Marsha is the one who voted for a health care mandate, not Amy Stephens.”
Looper as also been attacked for having sponsored a bill to streamline procedures in hiring and tracking migrant workers in 2008, and a statement in support of civil unions reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette, which she now denies.
Colorado Liberty Alliance, founded by Patrick Davis, launched the “Looper for Amnesty” website and dispatched “Green-lighted Illegal Immigration” mailers last month that said Colorado“can’t afford Looper’s amnesty scheme.”
Former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo, a leading proponent for immigration reform and secure borders, said “Stephens’ supporters have clearly crossed the line in their attempt to falsely accuse and mislead voters about Marsha’s tough stand on immigration.” Tancredo endorsed Looper in the HD19 race.
Schultheis posted a “thumbs up” message and link to the “anybody but Amy” website and last month promoted a YouTube “gotcha” video by Kanda Calef, who accused Stephens of being bought and paid for by lobbyists and political interest groups.
Though both candidates have received campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees, Calef’s video clip was a preview of Looper’s nomination acceptance speech Saturday when she cast herself as the representative “for the people” versus Stephens as “for the power” under the gold dome.
Stephens’ team includes political consultant Dustin Olson, former state executive director for the state party and later manager of Jeff Crank’s 2006 5th Congressional District campaign; campaign manager Rob O’Regan, a state GOP field director in 2006 who has since worked on political committees; and fundraising committee chair Jeff Hays vice chair of Republican House District 20.
Looper’s crew include campaign manager Lana Fore-Warkocz, former publisher of The Constitutionalist Today newspaper that supported the scandal-plagued 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Don Maes in 2010; Calef, a former legislative aide to Stephens and who was courted by Schultheis last year to challenge Stephens; and Laura Carno, a political consultant for several campaigns including Republican 5th CD candidate Robert Blaha.
Rumored to be around the corner Saturday was Looper supporter Jon Hotaling, who is working on behalf of several candidates and has been party to strategy discussions.
Hotaling worked to elect 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn in 2006 and subsequent campaigns, and was accused of colluding with a committee’s mailer that wrongfully portrayed then candidates Jeff Crank and Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera as pushing a gay agenda. A complaint was filed with the Federal Elections Commission, investigated and dismissed.
Lamborn said Saturday that in retrospect that he should have denounced the mailing, but there wasn’t time between the time he learned of it and the August primary. Lamborn said he didn’t think it killed either candidate’s campaigns because he was ahead in the polls.
Looper edged pass Stephens, winning 51.7 percent of the delegate vote, Stephens garnering 48.3 percent.