DENVER – Four Republican candidates are duking it out over the chance to secure their party’s nomination for a rare open congressional seat that covers much of the eastern third of Colorado.
Colorado’s 4th Congressional District seat became vacant when Rep. Cory Gardner announced his challenge to Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. That led Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who had been competing against Udall, to drop out and run for Gardner’s seat.
Buck quickly was joined by state Sen. Scott Renfroe, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and Steve Laffey, a businessman and recent Colorado transplant who was mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island.
The free-for-all in the 4th is the most unpredictable of Colorado’s three Republican congressional primaries on Tuesday’s ballot. There are no Democratic primaries.
In the 5th Congressional District, centered on Colorado Springs, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn is trying to oust four-term incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn, who some political analysts think could be vulnerable. In the 3rd District, which runs from Pueblo to the Western Slope, peach farmer David Cox is mounting a long-shot challenge to sophomore Rep. Scott Tipton.
The 4th district runs from the Nebraska border to the New Mexico, swinging into the Denver metro area to include much of Douglas County. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by almost 2-1, and whoever wins the primary is in a strong position to win November’s election against Democrat Vic Meyers.
Buck is believed to be the front-runner because he ran statewide against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010. Buck lost that race after being painted as too extreme on social issues, but he has been criticized in the primary for not being conservative enough on abortion rights. Buck distanced himself from an effort to give a fertilized egg the same rights as a person during his Senate campaign in 2010.
Renfroe has aired ads accusing Buck of “flip-flopping” on abortion.
“We need candidates who will stand firm for what they believe,” Renfroe said in an interview.
Buck says he remains strongly opposed to abortion rights and that he wants to go to Washington to rein in government spending.
“I am a problem-solver,” he said in an interview. “I’m going to D.C. to work on the spending issue.”
Kirkmeyer emphasizes her farming background, noting she’s the only candidate in the race with agricultural experience.
“I’m pretty well-tailored for this district,” she said.
Laffey has touted his support from former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and onetime presidential candidate Herman Cain.
In Colorado Springs, Lamborn has struggled to raise money to fend off the challenge from Rayburn. Lamborn, running for his fifth term, defeated Rayburn in multiple candidate primaries in 2006 and 2007. After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ousted last week by a little-known challenger, Rayburn issued a release noting Cantor had just been in Colorado to raise money for Lamborn.
The winner of that contest will be the favorite against Democrat Irv Halter, a retired Air Force Lt. General, in the overwhelmingly Republican district in November.