COLO. SPRINGS - Casting himself as a conservative outsider and business leader, Robert Blaha is picking up steam in his campaign against Rep. Doug Lamborn ahead of this year’s GOP primary.
Based on a poll the Blaha campaign commissioned, the challenger is within striking distance of Lamborn, a three-term incumbent from Colorado Springs.
The results of the survey from Magellan Strategies showed Lamborn garnering 43 percent of the vote among likely GOP primary voters and Blaha 38 percent, while 19 percent of likely voters were undecided. A late February poll from the Republican polling firm found that Blaha trailed by 31 percentage points.
Tamra Farah, Blaha’s campaign manager, said his campaign has received “a great resounding response from people” of the conservative 5th congressional district, which lies in the center of the state.
Lamborn did not dispute that the political novice has made inroads with the district’s GOP primary voters. The results of the survey, he said in an interview, reflected “a momentary blip in the polls.”
Lamborn expressed confidence he would prevail in the contest, noting he has yet to run any political ads. “He’s sprinting, but this election cycle (is going to take the equivalent) of a thousand years,” Lamborn said.
Lamborn said he doubted the accuracy of the poll, suggesting that Blaha is not within striking distance of defeating him in the primary. The survey of 666 likely Republican primary voters in the district was conducted April 5 and 9 using automated phone calls. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percent.
While political scientists prefer a larger sample size of 1,200 participants, Magellan Strategies’ CEO defended his survey. “Seven hundred (participants) is going to get what you need. It’s solid,” David Flaherty said. Flaherty conceded that polling 1,200 likely voters would reduce the margin of error to 2.8 percent, but referring to the costliness of conducting a poll, he said his survey was more cost effective.
Ashlee Springer, a media relations spokesperson with the Blaha campaign, said participants were asked a number of questions about the race, including “If the primary were held today, who would you vote for, Robert Blaha or Doug Lamborn?” She said Blaha’s campaign controlled the content of the other questions about the contest.
Blaha is different from challengers in recent primary contests because his main charge against the incumbent is not ideological or age-related. (Both men are 57). Blaha’s main charge is a pragmatic one. As a co-founder of a bank and founder of a business-management consulting firm, Blaha argued that Lamborn is an ineffective voice for conservatives.
“On the issues, there are virtually no differences,” Farah said, noting Blaha’s pro-life position and support for traditional marriage, gun rights, and state’s rights. “The differences are in experience and background … Doug Lamborn is a career politician who’s been in the state legislature and Congress … If I was a business person, it comes down to who has the most skills at the job. It’s not enough to just be a conservative. We need him to do something, and Rob Blaha has a plan.”
Lamborn suggested Blaha’s charge is a smokescreen. “Having a conservative in Washington is part of the answer and not part of the problem,” he said.
Yet forces in the 2012 election cycle have weakened incumbents’ arguments that they should be re-elected because of their ideological fealty.
Congress’ approval ratings are hovering in the low teens, suggesting that voters are impatient and upset about lawmakers’ ability to address the nation’s problems. In addition, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a non-partisan super political action committee, has helped oust incumbent House members in southern Ohio and northern Illinois this year.
Curt Ellis, a spokesperson for the super PAC, said the organization is considering whether to throw some of its weight behind Blaha. “Mr. Blaha fits many of the criteria that we’re looking for,” Ellis said, noting that the challenger is an outsider and businessman.
Lamborn has not backed down from Blaha’s criticism. At the Colorado Republican Convention Friday, Lamborn said Blaha had voted only once in the past six years of Republican primaries. “People like having a conservative over someone with no experience,” Lamborn said in an interview.
He also questioned Blaha’s fundraising ability, saying the challenger is raising the money from friends, family members, and himself. Farah said the campaign had raised $60,690 in the first quarter of this year.