Doug Lamborn appears to be studying a new textbook, titled How to Stay in Congress and Out of the Headlines.
The first-term U.S. House member from Colorado Springs followed the script perfectly this summer, winning the Republican primary against challengers Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn.
Lamborn prevailed with a slick strategy: He avoided debating or appearing at the same events with his opponents. He banked on slick ads portraying him as The Most Conservative Legislator in America. He built a war chest of contributions from right-wing groups who spend big money to keep their kind in office.
Along the way, Lamborn flew below the radar, avoiding the negative headlines and persistent stories in the local market that brought down the likes of state Rep. Douglas Bruce and District Attorney John Newsome.
Now, facing Democratic nominee Hal Bidlack in the Nov. 4 general election, Lamborn is on the same track. Even if it means contradicting himself.
On Aug. 13, the day after the primary, Lamborn issued a news release saying he had "repeatedly" challenged Bidlack to debates. That was meant to defuse criticism for Lamborn's refusal to debate Crank and Rayburn. The congressman had said no because, in his words, there wasn't enough disagreement on issues among the Republican candidates.
Obviously, Lamborn and Bidlack would agree on nothing. Bidlack called his own news conference on Aug. 14 and said he would be happy to face Lamborn as soon as possible, whenever and wherever the congressman wanted.
In fact, Bidlack called for Lamborn to have seven debates, two in El Paso County and one in each of the district's other five counties. That would give folks in Cañon City, Woodland Park, Buena Vista-Salida, Leadville and Fairplay a chance to see them in person. With Congress on recess for several weeks before Labor Day, and planning to adjourn on Sept. 26, the calendar did not seem to be an obstacle.
Soon, though, it became evident Lamborn had different plans. He has declined or not responded to overtures from groups trying to organize debates or even public forums where he would share a stage with Bidlack.
A month has passed, and time is growing short. Forget about Nov. 4 many thousands of mail ballots will be going out in just two weeks, starting on Oct. 3.
Late last week, Lamborn spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said the lawmaker had agreed to a debate with Bidlack. But it's Oct. 30, less than a week from election day, at Sand Creek High School. And it will be sponsored by the Republican Club of Falcon, hardly a neutral entity. Lamborn also has said yes to a radio show on KVOR-AM 740, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Oct. 28, and Bidlack will also participate.
That's it. That's supposed to show Lamborn meant what he said about debating. Not in a central location with unbiased organizers, but in the extreme eastern, and most conservative, edge of the district. And by appearing on a show on the radio station that carries far-right Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Is that truly reaching out to everyone in the district? Of course not.
Bidlack, of course, is frustrated. His best chance would be taking on Lamborn in more public settings, perhaps creating some of those headlines that can affect a race. But there are no rules forcing candidates to appear with opponents.
Lamborn's office did call Bidlack's office this week, responding four months later to an invitation for a face-to-face meeting. According to a Bidlack release, Lamborn offered an hour for coffee on Oct. 6. Bidlack countered by suggesting a 60-minute debate instead, as soon as possible, but that apparently won't happen.
And now Bidlack appears caught in the same malaise that prevented Crank and Rayburn from developing momentum. Perhaps the only outlet for Bidlack now is to attack, going to various media and firing his best shots.
Meanwhile, the elusive Lamborn pays for more TV ads. He even has agreed to a phone interview next week with the Independent. But, as spokesperson Mortensen said in an e-mail, "The congressman, as you know, prefers to talk about legislation and policy. ... Clearly, you can ask whatever you wish, but he prefers to focus on his congressional work."
So we'll talk about legislation and policy, but we'd also like to know why Lamborn is unwilling to debate until the campaign's final week.
Even though we already know the answer.
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