After making the ballot by the skin of his teeth in the last two elections, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn isn't leaving anything to chance in his bid for an eighth term representing the conservative 5th Congressional District.
Although the Colorado Springs Republican has yet to draw a primary challenger, Lamborn plans to pursue the June primary ballot by circulating petitions and going through precinct caucuses and party assemblies, his campaign told Colorado Politics.
Taking both routes to the GOP nomination provides a measure of insurance against close calls like Lamborn experienced in 2016, when a challenge by a conservative activist nearly kept him from the ballot at the district assembly, and in 2018, when a federal court ultimately reversed a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that removed Lamborn from the ballot over petition irregularities.
Lamborn went on to win both primaries by comfortable margins and then defeated his Democratic challengers, but not without bruising campaigns and expensive legal maneuvering.
Lamborn, who has had to get past primaries six times in his seven runs for Congress, made his re-election campaign official earlier this month, pledging to "continue strengthening those fiscal, social, and national security conservative values that have guided our country so well this far and must also in the future."
A member of the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees, Lamborn said in a statement that he wants to "continue building the military missions that are stationed in the district, and those that should be stationed in the district such as U.S. Space Command and Space Force."
The staunch ally of President Donald Trump — Lamborn co-chairs Trump's re-election campaign in Colorado — was referencing what looks to be a signature achievement: landing the newly established Space Force in his congressional district, which is already home to the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, and Peterson, Shriever and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force bases.
"I want to continue supporting President Trump and defending him from baseless partisan attacks, including the sham impeachment," Lamborn said, adding, "These are nothing but political gimmicks intended to thwart his conservative agenda."
Lamborn's conservative bona fides haven't kept primary challengers at bay in previous elections, however.
Last cycle, Lamborn won a five-way primary with 52% of the vote, more than 30 points ahead of his closest challenger, then-El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and a couple more points ahead of state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
That was only after surviving a month-long legal battle waged by Hill and other El Paso County Republicans who sought to knock Lamborn from the primary, alleging that some of his paid petition circulators didn't meet residency requirements. It took four trips to court before Lamborn finally prevailed, when a federal appeals court agreed that the requirement was unconstitutional and restored him to the ballot.
Lamborn's campaign spent $120,000 in legal fees to defend against the challenges, on top of nearly $17,000 paid to the firm that circulated his petitions.
Two years earlier, when Lamborn went through the caucus and assembly process, then-32-year-old Calandra Vargas gave Lamborn a scare at the GOP district assembly. Her last-minute challenge held the incumbent to 35% support, just 18 delegate votes more than the 30% he needed to advance to the primary.
After barely qualifying, however, Lamborn went on to win the primary with 68% of the vote.
The Colorado secretary of state’s office has approved a petition format for Lamborn, who has until March 17 to gather 1,500 valid signatures from Republicans registered in the district.
Accessing the June 30 primary by the caucus and assembly route means Lamborn has to win at least 30% support of GOP delegates who emerge from March 7 precinct caucuses and make it to the district assembly in mid-April.
So far, Republican insiders say no one is planning on running against Lamborn in the primary.
The heavily Republican 5th District includes El Paso, Chaffee, Freemont and Teller counties and portions of Park County. Since its creation in 1972, it's only been represented by Republicans.
Several Democrats are running for the seat, including Jillian Freeland, George English, Brandon Bocchino and Ryan Lucas.