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Primary still deserves analysis 

Between the Lines

For months, anyone with much awareness in area politics had been salivating over the 2012 primary election — mainly because there was uncertainty inside the Republican ranks.

This time incumbents and familiar veterans weren't immune from internal GOP opposition, from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn to several state legislators and two county commissioners.

Yet even before the west end of El Paso County ignited and the Waldo Canyon Fire stole the show in the primary's final hours, the anticipated drama never really materialized. The lesser-known challengers, despite being given every opportunity, didn't have the substance or staying power.

Then the blaze in the mountains stifled any late voter interest. In the end, of course, we didn't even know the final election outcomes on that fateful Tuesday night (see "Election, interrupted.")

Fortunately, all the races here were decided from the single release of early election night results. Lamborn disposed of Robert Blaha, while on the state level, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens thumped Rep. Marsha Looper, and Owen Hill easily defeated state Rep. Larry Liston for a Senate seat. Meanwhile, Commissioners Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey breezed to victory.

Most margins were in the 60-40 range, wider than anticipated. And once all the ballots were tabulated, the county turnout actually was better than four years ago, up from about 51,000 in the congressional primary of 2008 (when Lamborn defeated Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn) to 61,112 this time.

So, with more of the fire apparently coming under control, let's quickly analyze the primary election, then focus on the Lamborn-Blaha race.

First, the GOP establishment has to feel relieved, with Stephens beating Looper and Clark conquering Karen Magistrelli's challenge. (She faces another, from Democrat John Morris, in November.) The size of Liston's loss was a slight surprise, and it's true that Liston (with his eight years in the House) could have been far more effective in the Senate than Hill probably will ever be. But there simply was no voter revolt here.

Second, the improved turnout clearly indicates the mail-ballot-only setup brought a positive influence to the primary, not negative as some feared. Given that the fire deterred many from voting in the final days, you have to wonder what the turnout would've been without such a huge late distraction. After seeing widespread apathy in other states' primaries, we can say that problem doesn't exist here.

Third, we should note the Pueblo district attorney race, with Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner unseating incumbent DA Bill Thiebaut by roughly a 53-47 margin. That should bode well for Pueblo being more cooperative in pushing the Southern Delivery System forward, though Thiebaut has six more months in office to cause disruptions (and will probably try to do just that).

As for Lamborn-Blaha, despite much evidence of dissatisfaction with Lamborn, not enough GOP voters saw Blaha as a capable alternative. Simply being the anti-Lamborn with a lot of money wasn't enough. Blaha turned off gun supporters in the one public forum he had with Lamborn, and never seemed to recover.

Also lost in those results was the apathy in the 5th Congressional District's other five counties — Teller, Fremont, Park, Chaffee and Lake — with only 6,011 votes in all of them combined (4,305 for Lamborn, 1,706 for Blaha).

Looking ahead to November, merely on the strength of his margin over Blaha (62-38 percent), Lamborn is favored at the start against his next foe, independent Dave Anderson. But that race still looks intriguing, because Anderson will come after Lamborn with a different strategy.

Besides appealing to those who are tired of Lamborn, Anderson plans to offer a much more refreshing alternative. He has pledged not to be negative, instead offering plenty of knowledge and ideas related to the economy, business and job creation. Perhaps the toughest part for Anderson will be trying to beat Lamborn in El Paso County during a presidential election year, but we've heard enough negative sentiment toward Lamborn (even during the fire), that voters still might embrace an alternative with an upbeat outlook and an "I" beside his name.

We'll have four more months to watch that.

Otherwise, this primary is already forgotten.

routon@csindy.com

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