Let me make this perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon might say: I don’t understand the Republican Party; I never have understood the Republican Party; and I suspect that I’ll go to the grave without ever understanding those daffy GOPsters — and I am one.
Admitted lib’ruls aren’t particularly welcome in the party, but I enjoy voting in Republican primaries. And now, infected by the topsy-turvy politics of 2016, our sober-sided Republicans have given us a primary for the ages, one that might send two of Colorado Springs’ own to Congress.
Consider Calandra Vargas, the passionately articulate 32-year-old legislative aide who almost knocked incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn off the primary ballot. By her own account, she entered the race on a whim, without deep-pocketed backers or an organized campaign. I asked a couple of District Assembly delegates about her coup de theatre.
“I’ve seen her around the Capitol,” said one, “but I don’t really know her. She worked on the Romney campaign in 2012, rounding up religious conservatives for Mitt in Colorado. She gave one helluva speech, let me tell you. I didn’t vote for her, but that shows what happens when an incumbent takes the whole process for granted — they sure sent Lamborn a message!”
“Lamborn has made a lot of enemies over the years,” said another delegate, “and they were all there — Lionel Rivera, Eli Bremer, Jeff Crank, Duncan Bremer. And remember, Bentley Rayburn got 47 percent of the vote two years ago and he had a lot of negatives. I think Doug is in for a real battle.”
Democrats are fond of demonizing Lamborn as a bumbling small town pol who somehow scammed his way into Congress. Not so — competent, responsible folks who are quick to engage with constituent problems work at Lamborn’s office, and the congressman is a reliable advocate for local business interests. And as one who once debated Lamborn before he was elected to Congress, I can testify that he’s a lot smarter than his opponents believe him to be.
That said, the stars might be aligned for Vargas. Choosing her as the party’s nominee in the June 28 primary would create a national sensation. Vargas is just as conservative as Lamborn, but she’s young, telegenic, female and Hispanic. Given her background in politics, she’s probably learned from the missteps of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. If careful and thoughtful, she could be an effective representative, one who could work well with Democrats and Republicans alike.
But it’s one thing to make a fiery speech and another to run a winning campaign — so we’ll see.
And what about Darryl Glenn? Like every other ignorant political prognosticator, I thought that his campaign for the U.S. Senate was delusional — just another washed-up politician in search of a better job. And who could blame him, after 13 years on City Council and the Board of County Commissioners?
But Glenn clearly did what Lamborn didn’t bother to do. He worked the grassroots and made a helluva speech. He knocked out all his assembly rivals, receiving 70 percent of the votes at the state assembly.
He’ll have four opponents in June, all of whom petitioned to be on the ballot. They are: Colorado Springs businessman and 2012 CD-5 congressional candidate Robert Blaha, former Aurora Councilor Ryan Frazier, former Colorado State University Athletic Director Jack Graham and former state Rep. Jon Keyser.
That’s a lot of “formers.” Glenn’s political experience far surpasses that of his rivals and his bio (attorney, Air Force Academy graduate, retired lieutenant colonel) seems superior. Even the ardent Democrats at Coloradopols.com have jumped on the Glenn bandwagon … sort of.
“As we have noted on numerous occasions here,” Jason Salzman said on the website, “Glenn has consistently been the best performer at the various Republican Senate debates. Glenn is the best speaker of the bunch in the Republican field, and apparently he has the strongest grassroots support. If he can raise money from a post-convention bounce, Glenn will be the candidate to beat in June.”
United States Senator Darryl Glenn? United States Congresswoman Calandra Vargas? Probably not.
Glenn might be too much the Tea Party conservative to win a general election in Colorado, while Vargas will have to beat an incumbent congressman in the primary. She blew him out at the assembly, but she may learn the sad lesson that Rayburn, Rivera, Crank, Blaha, Duncan Bremer and former Sheriff John Anderson all learned: The Colorado Springs political landscape is littered with the bones of those who underestimated Doug Lamborn.
But as George W. Bush might say: don’t mis-underestimate Vargas or Glenn either.
Predictions? Never again!