Crank didn't have to worry about offending anyone in the crowd of about 125 area Republicans who showed up Monday night at the Antlers Hilton.
These were his friends, his allies, his loyal supporters. This was the nucleus of well-connected loyalists willing to help the 40-year-old software company executive kick off his rematch with Lamborn leading to the 2008 Republican primary on Aug. 12.
So, as he began what will be a most unusual campaign over the next nine months, Crank used the moment to practice his new stump speech. That was a good idea, because Crank might want to hone that message a little. He's embarking on a treacherous journey, akin to all the clichs a tightrope, a maze, a field of landmines. Most likely, all of the above.
It might not look that precarious today, running against the stumbling, bumbling, vulnerable Washington rookie that Lamborn is. But looks can be deceiving, even with Lamborn busily writing the book that could be called, How to Be a First-Term Republican Washout in Congress from a GOP-Dominated District.
So far, Crank is building an impressive lineup of local backers. State Sen. Andy McElhany, the Senate Minority Leader, introduced the candidate Monday night. Also in the audience were state Rep. Larry Liston, former state Sen. Ed Jones, County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, City Councilman Tom Gallagher and an array of business leaders.
From the start, the night's theme was clear, focusing on certain buzzwords and phrases that, in the campaign ahead, obviously will be used to elevate Crank and belittle Lamborn.
Words like credibility, competence, smart, strong, hard-working, resolute, leadership, energetic. The indirect, yet unmistakable message: Lamborn deserves an "F" in those categories, and his weaknesses would be Crank's strengths.
As long as those were the main points, Crank was on solid ground. As he delivered that speech, though, one couldn't help but feel queasy. It's one thing to embrace the usual conservative stances, even taking some shots at Republican leadership in Washington. It's easy to talk about being more fiscally responsible, securing borders, supporting the war on terror and advocating gun rights. Crank tossed in other morsels, such as hoping to abolish income tax (in favor of something more fair to all) and doing away with the Internal Revenue Service.
He veered a little off track, though, when he took aim at specific individuals. He talked about his willingness to stand up to President George W. Bush on such issues as immigration and "crushing national debt" despite the fact Bush will leave office at the same time Crank would start in January 2009. Crank also insisted he would go "toe-to-toe" with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi though there's no guarantee she'll be in that role beyond 2008. And it probably does Crank little good to say the national GOP "has lost its way" and "Washington is broken," especially since he was so involved with Rep. Joel Hefley as a top aide for the longtime congressman in the 1990s and was happy to have Hefley's endorsement last year.
Those comments led to some whispering Monday night, and probably will bring a few "helpful" suggestions for Crank to avoid taking his aggressiveness too far.
Instead of all that big talk, he might want to make a bigger deal about one of his sub-topics trying to re-unite El Paso County's Republicans. They're a dysfunctional bunch now, split into multiple factions, and having Bentley Rayburn as another returning GOP challenger doesn't help.
For now, Jeff Crank wants everyone to think that "a primary is not divisive," which is like saying high gas prices aren't bad for the economy. Obviously, thousands of El Paso County voters thought enough of Lamborn to elect him last year. Many of them, such as the Douglas Bruce disciples, won't be swayed easily.
Crank obviously has a lot going for him, but it's not enough to have other elected officials and party old-timers on his side. It's also not enough to be the anti-Lamborn, and he doesn't yet appear to have prominent defectors coming from Lamborn to his side.
Crank certainly can win, and there's little doubt he would be much more adept (some would rather use a few of those buzzwords, starting with "smart") than Lamborn has been while adjusting to reality in Washington.
But let's not forget that Jeff Crank had much of the establishment on his side last year, too. In other words, he still has plenty of convincing to do especially when the audience isn't just a bunch of familiar faces.