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Whoever plans to challenge Pete Lee is being awfully quiet 

Waiting game

Remember Jennifer George?

In 2012, the Republican and local attorney raised nearly $165,000 in a campaign to defeat sitting Democratic state Rep. Pete Lee. George's well-organized push in District 18 — encompassing areas of central and west Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and El Paso County — started early. By election day, parts of the city seemed painted red by her oversized campaign signs.

Still, Lee cruised to a win, 19,588 votes to 15,021.

"My agenda has been focused on the economy and job creation, and I think that is a bipartisan issue that appeals to and resonates with Democrats, Republicans and Independents," Lee says by way of explanation.

But here's something that appears to defy explanation: Lee still has no announced opponent in his 2014 race for a third term — and the election is less than eight months away.

In the past, District 18 has seen protracted battles because it's considered a competitive seat. A February report from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office shows it has 18,063 Democrats, 16,305 Republicans, and 23,236 unaffiliated voters.

Have Republicans really given up on winning back the seat?

No, says El Paso County Republican Party executive director Daniel Cole. While he won't name names, he says a Republican candidate will announce during the March 29 Republican assembly. That may seem like a late announcement by modern standards, but Cole says the Republicans still plan a hard push and see the seat as winnable.

"I'd say that Cory Gardner only got into the U.S. Senate race a few days ago, and he's the front-runner," Cole said last week. "Bob Beauprez got in about this same time in 2010 and he won the primary. So no, I don't think it's terribly late for somebody to be getting into this race.

"There are different strategies. Sometimes people want to start really early and start building up their name ID, as Bill Elder has done in the sheriff's race, and sometimes people like to spring on their opponent a little later."

Lee raised about $159,000 for his last go-round. He says he has plenty of name recognition and bipartisan support and plans to focus on the legislative session for now, not campaigning.

Christy Le Lait, executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, says she thinks Lee is known as a moderate, and is well-liked. Of the Republicans, she says, "Maybe they're going to focus their energies at a different seat, maybe Senate District 11."

Historically, District 18 hasn't been a great bet for the GOP. In recent years, it's been held by Lee and four-term Democrat Michael Merrifield. Before that, the general area, then under a different district, was held by Republican Marcy Morrison.

Asked why she thinks Republicans have yet to name a candidate for District 18, Morrison says she wonders if it's a lack of organization, or simply a realization that a far-right Republican is unlikely to win the seat.

Morrison says she voted as a moderate during her time in office, which often displeased her party. She won elections, she says, by winning over enough Democrats, some of whom even switched party affiliations temporarily to vote for her in the primary.

"This is one of those districts that can go either way, and [the Republicans] really need someone with a lot of energy and personality that can pull from both sides," she says. "That isn't always easy to find."

stanley@csindy.com

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