"I am a Republican, and I will be supporting Jay Fawcett."
Those words spoken by respected longtime community business leader Marv Strait might sound like heresy to the ears of many local Grand Old Party loyalists. For many Republican officeholders, or those who may one day want to become politicians, such a public statement could very well spell for them the kiss of death. But to Strait, a Republican for 51 years, supporting a Democrat running for Congress is really no big deal.
"I've always voted for the individual, and in this case, I support Jay," Strait says.
Strait is not the only high-profile local Republican who has publicly come out for Fawcett, an Air Force Academy graduate and retired lieutenant colonel who served in Desert Storm. Last week, the day after Doug Lamborn won a hotly contested six-way Republican primary, Colorado Springs City Councilman Scott Hente threw his support behind Fawcett. James Stewart, the president of the Black Chamber of Commerce, has also endorsed Fawcett, and this week Jerry Heimlicher indicated he will likely support the Democrat.
"It's not as unusual as you would think," says Hente. "We're both retired Air Force Academy graduates, both Desert Storm veterans, we're both Bronze Star recipients; Jay and I have a lot in common."
Strait echoes the desire to have someone with military experience in Congress.
"I don't think Lamborn has ever been in the military, and we're a military town," he says. "It seems to me that so much of our economy depends on having someone understand the military."
It's hard to say whether such defections by Republicans, in a district where GOP voters outnumber Democrats 2 to 1, will have an impact in the November general election. As of press time, Jon Hotaling, Lamborn's campaign manager, had not returned a call seeking comment.
But since throwing his public support behind Fawcett, Hente, who has been a city councilman for three years, says he has received far more positive feedback than negative.
"I've also had several prominent Republicans tell me they'd be scared to death to come out and publicly endorse Jay, but when they step into the voting booth, they'll be voting for Jay," Hente says, declining to name names.
Heimlicher, a Republican who got a lot of grief when he endorsed Democrat state Rep. Michael Merrifield two years ago, notes that 72 percent of the Republicans who turned out to vote in last week's primary election did not cast their ballots for Lamborn.
Ordinarily the party would unite around the winning candidate, but Heimlicher, who supported Lionel Rivera in the primary, says he's heard numerous people complaining about the dirty tactics used to benefit the Lamborn campaign including a mailer that accused Rivera and candidate Jeff Crank of supporting the "radical homosexual lobby." Lamborn never publicly denounced the mailers, which further angered many moderates.
"He's just too far to the right, even for the Republicans who tolerate anything to the right," Heimlicher says. "I don't think that Mr. Fawcett is that far to the left he's just left of center, especially compared to the right wing, which is about to fall off the right side of the Earth."