Congressman Doug Lamborn showed his vulnerability Tuesday night, winning his GOP primary by a slim 4 percent margin over his perennial challenger Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force two-star general.
Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, has held office since 2007, and Tuesday night was the closest he's come to being unseated despite frequent primary challenges. Rayburn conceded the election at about 10:45 p.m.
Lamborn will face Irv Halter, a Democrat, in November. Halter, a retired Air Force major general, didn't face a primary opponent but is running an aggressive campaign in the conservative district.
Rayburn ran on a campaign accusing the incumbent of being ineffective in Congress and lax on military issues. With most ballots counted he was trailing with 48 percent of the vote. That's a better showing than he's had the other two times he has challenged Lamborn.
"Bentley Rayburn has been a worthy opponent," Lamborn said, noting there were still votes to be counted. "But he has gotten a lot of the facts wrong, like his assessment of the VA Committee. I've done a very good job protecting the military in El Paso County."
Rayburn disagreed, saying voters were sending a clear message Tuesday.
"It's very clear that people wanted a representative that was accessible and showed the kind of leadership they wanted both here, in the district, as well as back in Washington, D.C.," Rayburn said.
He said the same message was sent in Mississippi on Tuesday with a close race for Republican incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and earlier this month when GOP voters unseated House Minority Leader Eric Cantor.
"We don't want our politicians to go to Washington forever and become entrenched and forget that they really work for all of us back here at home," Rayburn said.
Lamborn blamed the close race on President Barack Obama and said that voters are so frustrated with the Affordable Care Act that they are taking it out on Republicans who have been unable to stop the healthcare reform despite their best efforts.
There were indications Lamborn might have been worried about the primary. He wasn't in the district on election night, instead staying in Washington, D.C., so he could attend a Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing Monday night.
Rayburn accused Lamborn of having abysmal attendance at the committee meetings that oversee an agency now embroiled in scandal of its care of veterans in the Veterans Health Administration.
Lamborn loaned his campaign $100,000 shortly after Rayburn won a place on the primary ballot at the Republican assembly.
Going into the general election Lamborn has $200,224 cash on hand after spending $192,000 on the primary, including buying puzzling TV ads that focused on Rayburn's record on the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that Rayburn has never held political office.
Joe Roach, 76, said the negativity of Lamborn's campaign is what turned him away from a candidate he has supported since 2006. Roach said he knocked on 3,000 doors for Lamborn when he first ran for office, but has become disenchanted with his long-time friend.
"He may change because this is going to sting him, but you don't hear from him all year until it's election time," said Roach, who was at the Rayburn watch party Tuesday night at the Global Village Academy, 1702 N. Murray Blvd.
Halter had $265,000 cash on hand at the pre-primary reporting deadline, giving him a slight funding edge going into the heavily Republican district.
"For the Republicans and unaffiliated voters who cast a ballot for Bentley Rayburn, I too agree that our district has been underserved by a Congressman who has become part of the problem in Washington," Halter said in a statement Tuesday night. "I share your frustration that we lack a leader who will engage with his constituents - especially the local business community."
Halter said he will continue to travel through the five counties in the 5th Congressional District and talk to constituents about their concerns and ideas. The district comprises El Paso, Teller, Fremont, Chaffee and part of Park counties.