Opinion: The narrow path to keep two Colorado extremists out of Congress

I was an intern at the Colorado Springs Gazette covering the election results in 2006 when Doug Lamborn won a crowded Republican primary with a mere 27% of the vote. People were genuinely shocked by the results.

Lamborn went on to serve in Congress for 17 years despite facing primary challenges every two years from those frustrated by the congressman’s incompetence.

Colorado Republicans are at risk of making the same mistake – two times — this June in the critical primaries for Lamborn’s 5th Congressional District and the 4th Congressional District where incumbent Ken Buck is retiring.

Bosom buddies and political extremists Lauren Boebert and Dave Williams could win with a minority of support in two districts where long-time Republican incumbents have retired. Boebert and Williams are benefitting from the fact that Williams is the chair of the Colorado Republican Party and he is willing to shamelessly use party resources to tip the scales in this election for himself and for Boebert, both of whom the party has endorsed in a remarkable break with tradition.

These ethical transgressions are compounded by the fact that Boebert abandoned the Western Slope announcing she would not run again in a district she almost lost in 2022, but instead selecting to run in CD4. It has every appearance of a backroom deal meant to ensure a Republican wins Congressional District 3 while giving Boebert a clear shot to win in a district where she didn’t live.

Allowing the minority of far-right voters in Congressional District 4 to select the worst possible candidate where no one on the ballot tops 30% of the vote, will have a lasting impact. The power of the incumbency is simply too strong in this nation.

Several of the candidates in these races do have a clear path to victory but it requires unaffiliated voters casting ballots this month in near-record numbers and other candidates bowing out gracefully so the more moderate vote isn’t split.

In Colorado’s redrawn 4th Congressional District, State Rep. Mike Lynch, a small business owner in Loveland, has the clearest path to victory over Boebert.

Lynch is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and his campaign is off to a bit of a slow start because he was busy working to pass bipartisan laws as a state Representative.

He is best suited to defeat Ike McCorkle, also a veteran, in the General Election in November. Recent internal polls (less reliable than public polls) have shown that while many voters in CD4 are undecided, more say they would support McCorkle than Boebert in November.

In Colorado, unaffiliated voters can choose to cast their ballot in either the Democratic or the Republican primary. Lynch said that unaffiliated voters make up a large chunk of Congressional District 4 and winning those voters’ support is crucial to a victory over Boebert.

A few short years ago, the idea of a Democrat winning in the heavily Republican district which encompasses suburbs north and south of Denver and the vast Eastern Plains would have seemed unthinkable. But the district was redrawn, and Boebert is an outsider carrying embarrassing baggage to her new “hometown” where she’s lived for a time span best measured in weeks, not months or years.

In El Paso County’s Congressional District 5, it is Jeff Crank who has the best shot at keeping Williams out of office.

Crank, a conservative talk radio host, lost to Lamborn in 2006 drawing a close 25.4% of the vote. Had Bentley Rayburnwithdrawn from the race, Crank would have won.

Now, nearly two decades later Crank has a chance to serve in Congress if Republicans can keep from splitting the moderate vote. Lamborn has endorsed Crank even though both Rayburn and Crank tried to oust Lamborn in subsequent elections.

Times have changed, and the stakes are even higher. Lamborn, a reliable member of the Freedom Caucus, looks like John McCain compared to Dave Williams, just as Ken Buck has become somewhat of a moral guidepost for Republicans led astray by President Donald Trump’s lies. Both Republicans bowed out, in part because of this extremism, even if, unlike Buck, Lamborn won’t say that out loud.

Colorado’s open primaries are one step in the election reform required to shut down this endless cycle of extremism. If voters put it to good use in just a few short weeks, these districts can get the conservative representation they want without the ethical lapses, conspiracy theories, and bizarre behavior they don’t deserve.

Megan Schrader is the editor of The Denver Post opinion pages.

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