Former state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, the Colorado Springs Republican and former Navy chaplain known as “Dr. Chaps,” said Tuesday night he’s forming an exploratory committee to weigh a bid against state Rep. Tony Exum, the Colorado Springs Democrat who holds one of the state’s swingiest of swing seats.
Klingenschmitt told a group of Republican activists he would prefer to support “some other wealthy and popular candidate” to take on Exum in House District 17 for a seat that has changed hands between the two parties in every election since 2006 — but will accept the nomination if a viable Republican candidate hasn’t emerged by precinct caucuses in early March.
A lightning rod for controversy who put actual lightning rods to shame during his one term in the General Assembly, Klingenschmitt maintained President Barack Obama is possessed by demons and once performed an exorcism on him. He accused U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is gay, of wanting to “join ISIS in beheading Christians,” although Klingenschmitt later said the remark wasn’t meant seriously. He was admonished by House GOP leadership for calling it “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb” when a pregnant Longmont woman was attacked and her baby was cut from her womb.
In November, Klingenschmitt travelled to Alabama to campaign for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, saying Moore stood with him when he was court-martialed over a decade ago for wearing his Navy uniform while “praying in Jesus’ name” — a phrase that inspired the name of Klingenschmitt’s internet televangelism show.
Klingenschmitt raised the possibility of a legislative campaign at a gathering to introduce voters to gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo. He prefaced his remarks by noting that Republicans will have to keep their majority in the state Senate and win it back in the House in order to be able to send Tancredo “good bills” to sign.
“My concern is more for the party than it is for myself,” he told Colorado Politics after the meeting. “I’ve had enough of the life experience, but if the seat is going to be empty, and if Tony Exum the incumbent is given a walk-away reelection without contest, then that’s unacceptable. So I think somebody needs to run for that seat, because it’s one of three competitive seats in the state that swing every election. This time it’s the Republicans’ turn, but not if we don’t run anybody. If it’s not me, that’s great, but if nobody else is going to step up, then I am willing to step up.”
He added that he’d be happy to serve as the district’s GOP chairman if a candidate emerged but that position was still vacant. “I am eager to serve the party in any way that is helpful to the cause,” he said.
Klingenschmitt said he moved into the Satellite Hotel in the district in southeast Colorado Springs in October. Previously, he lived in the heavily Republican House District 15 on the east side of town, where he was elected in 2014. He gave up that seat after one term, however, to run for an open state Senate seat but lost a bitter primary to former state Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who went on to win the general election.
Republican Bob Schutt, who lost a bid to unseat state Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, two years ago by 12 points, moved into Exum’s district and filed to run for the seat in November, but local Republicans said they hadn’t realized he was a candidate.
Democrats were simultaneously shaking their heads and licking their chops at the prospect of another Klingenschmitt campaign.
“It would be better for everyone if he stayed in Alabama with his pal Roy Moore,” said Matthew McGovern, director of the campaign arm of the House Democrats, the House Majority Project.
“We’re saying Merry Christmas again,” a state Democratic aide told Colorado Politics.
— The Gazette’s Ellie Mulder contributed to this report