His singular goal is not to boost Republican turnout for statewide candidates in the 2nd Congressional District this fall. If it was, the former chairman of the Boulder County GOP would not have bothered making a four-day trip to Washington this week to meet with national party officials.
“I would not be in this race just to be a stalking horse,” Leing told The Observer. “There are 47,000 registered Republicans in our district.”
Yet Leing admits that if his presence on the ballot increases voter turnout for statewide Republican candidates in the region like Rep. Cory Gardner, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, he would consider that an added bonus.
“If there’s a boost in turn out, that would be terrific,” he said.
Leing says his experience as a lawyer who represents renewable-energy clients would add credibility to his message that the state does not need to impose more regulations on the practice of hydraulic fracturing.
Leing’s support of the natural gas industry puts him directly at odds with Polis, a millionaire who is also pulling the strings on a ballot issue this fall to ban the practice and cripple the industry.
“I’ve seen that these decisions should be made by the free market,” Leing said, taking a thinly veiled swipe at Polis.
“The biggest problem with his position is that it doesn’t help everyday Colorado families. There was a study from the Leeds College of Business at the University of Colorado that found that a ban on fracking would cost 93,000 jobs and lots more in revenue. It’s a major part of our economy,” Leing said.
The son of Chinese immigrants, the 55-year-old Leing declared he is a “new Republican candidate running for Congress” in a video to announce his candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District.
Leing is taking his candidacy seriously too — in addition to meetings with officials from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee, Leing has worked to build a solid organizational and fundraising apparatus.
His 20-something Campaign Manager Gregory Carlson was the chairman of the College Republicans at CU-Boulder.
And, Leing has raised nearly $86,000 for his campaign, more than $71,000 in the first quarter of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Republican attempts to mount a serious threat in the 2nd district have faltered in the last dozen years. No GOP challenger has garnered even 40 percent of the vote since 2000.
But Leing’s belief in the seriousness of his candidacy belies a harsh political reality, according to political observers. Any Republican nominee faces an uphill struggle in the politically liberal district.
Bob Greenlee, who lost a tight race to then-state Senator Mark Udall for an open seat in 1998, said he amassed 47 percent of the vote partly because he had been a long-time member of the Boulder City Council and became Boulder’s mayor just days after Joan Benet Ramsey was found murdered in her home.
“The 2nd CD has changed a great deal since I ran. It contained more of Jefferson County and less of Adams and more of the mountain communities … The Democrat legislature did a spectacular job of making it a bit of a challenge for anyone without a ‘D’ next to their name to win,” Greenlee said.
Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said that even in a congressional election year that tilts toward Republicans, the odds of a Republican winning the district are slim.
“We’re not seeing a lot of (Democratic) districts like that come into play … a national wave would have to reach tremendous heights,” Gonzales said.
Polis’ personal wealth as the seventh wealthiest member of Congress represents another barrier for Leing.
Yet Leing’s candidacy has earned respectful nods from friends, neutral observers, and foes alike.
As an Asian Republican, Leing has sought to appeal to young people and minorities in the district, which includes the CU-Boulder campus.
Gonzales said Leing might be able to make some headway to those groups. “He doesn’t fit the old-white guy model,” he said.
Michelle Lyng, the former campaign manager to physician Mike Fallon, who challenged Rep. Diana DeGette in 2010, said she thinks Leing would have strong appeal to voters.
“Beyond doing a good thing in running against Polis, I think his candidacy will help drive Republican turnout in unexpected places. It will only help statewide candidates,” Lyng said.
Lyng noted that to win statewide, a Republican candidate needs to receive at least 28 percent of the vote in Denver. Getting votes in the northern Front Range is tricky, she said.
A comparison of recent GOP candidates in the second district shows that state Senator Kevin Lundberg received 162,000 votes two years ago, 64,000 more and 46,000 more votes than the GOP challengers in 2012 and 2010 received.
Polis, for his part, has refrained from criticizing Leing. “I have not met him and look forward to debating him,” he said in a recent interview.