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Praying for victory 

There's a lot of praying going on over in House District 18. State Rep. Michael Merrifield's praying, his opponent Kyle Fisk is praying, and so, too, is Pastor Ted Haggard, the charismatic leader of the largest church in the state.

But by now, the Fisk campaign might be praying that a letter, written by Haggard on behalf of Fisk, doesn't backfire on the candidate.

Earlier this month, Haggard sent the message, on his personal letterhead, to thousands of people urging them to send money to, volunteer to help, and pray for Fisk, who is challenging Merrifield in the district that includes part of downtown Colorado Springs, its west side and Manitou Springs "the one area in El Paso County that is not currently well represented," Haggard wrote.

How that one area is not being well represented is unclear, though it might simply be the fact that Merrifield, who is running for his third term, is the only Democrat in the county's 13-member legislative delegation.

In his letter Haggard did make it clear that his support for Fisk is as a "private citizen" and not as the pastor of New Life Church. (The Internal Revenue Service prohibits pastors from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit.) Fisk currently works for Haggard as an associate pastor at Boulder Street Church, an outreach of New Life Church, and previously was executive director of the Colorado Springs-based National Association of Evangelicals, of which Haggard is president.

"I am not writing you today as the pastor of New Life Church, but as a private citizen who is a friend and employer of Kyle Fisk," Haggard wrote. "I am very proud of Kyle Fisk ... He is a competent man who is well informed and conversant in the subtleties of American government and politics. I like this guy a lot."

Read Haggard's letter

For his part, Merrifield calls Haggard's letter "pretty sleazy."

"It's close to crossing the line, but I doubt that it does they're not stupid," he says. "It would be fun to catch them in an outright violation."

On Monday, Kyle Fisk's brother, Nathan Fisk, who is working on the campaign, said he hopes Haggard's letter of support does not prove a distraction from the issues including education, supporting small businesses, health care and public safety.

But Merrifield, a retired schoolteacher, former business owner and current chairman of the House Education Committee, says he certainly plans to bring up the Haggard letter during the campaign as "proof" that if elected, Fisk would bring a far-right religious philosophy to the Capitol. Among other issues, Fisk supports "competition and cooperation" in education, including "school choice" often a euphemism for vouchers, which Colorado voters have twice rejected. (For his part, Fisk has termed Merrifield's voting record, which includes an anti-voucher stance, as "radical and extreme.")

"If [Haggard] wanted to run for House District 18, he should have jumped in the race himself," Merrifield says. "I find it interesting that the issues that my opponent is touting are the same as mine: helping small businesses and education. And since our issues are the same, I would hope [Haggard] would pray for me, as well."

All praying aside, if only for the moment, the district that Merrifield currently represents is considered far more moderate than much of the rest of the county. When he first won office four years ago, Merrifield beat his opponent, Dan Stuart, by only 112 votes. But two years ago, he handily beat his Republican opponent, Kent Lambert who was considered far more conservative than Stewart with about 55 percent of the vote.

Lambert has since moved to the neighboring House District 14, which has far more registered Republicans, in large part to run for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Dave Schultheis. Earlier this month, Lambert crushed GOP opponent Colin Mullaney, and Democrat Karen Teja is now taking Lambert on in the general election. With a 17 percent Democratic voter registration, compared to 51 percent registered Republicans in that district, calling Teja's an uphill battle is an understatement.

Always willing to pitch in with a quip, Merrifield doesn't miss a beat when asked about the prospect of serving alongside Lambert in the Legislature:

"I'm hoping I don't have to. As Ted Haggard would say, I'm praying for people to vote for Karen Teja."

degette@csindy.com

  • There's a lot of praying going on over in House District 18.

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