COLORADO SPRINGS — U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn advanced to the general election Tuesday after a five-way GOP primary that first threatened to scuttle his career in Congress, then drove him to embrace the policies of President Donald Trump.
The Colorado Springs Republican won with 54 percent of the vote in early returns released Tuesday evening. He led his nearest opponent by more than nearly 30 percentage points, giving him a surprise majority and victory in the crowded race.
“I’m happy the voters recognized my conservative accomplishments and my service to the district,” Lamborn said by phone from Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening.
The six-term incumbent was nearly forced off the ballot by legal wrangling after supporters of his rivals filed a lawsuit that questioned the legality of his signature-gathering campaign to secure a spot on the primary ballot.
Lamborn went to federal court to turn back the suit, but he then faced weeks in a gloves-off contest that saw opponents – including El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and state Sen. Owen Hill -portray him as an anti-Trump moderate who supports abortion rights.
Lamborn countered his critics with a campaign that portrayed him as Trump’s happiest supporter. While Lamborn steered clear of Trump in the 2016 primary campaign, he’s warmed to the controversial conservative, making Trump’s achievements a central pillar in his election pitch. He also embraced the party’s religious wing, bringing Sam Brownback, Trump’s ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, to Colorado Springs to woo evangelical Christians.
The incumbent was celebrating the scope of his win Tuesday evening.
“It has been an interesting primary, but so far, I’m prevailing over the rest of the field combined,” he said.
Flying past the primary for Lamborn meant getting through the Air Force. Hill and Glenn are Air Force Academy graduates whose campaigns made much of their military ties. Lamborn’s 5th Congressional District covers five military installations and is home to 80,000 veterans and 40,000 active-duty troops.
“Senator Hill knows firsthand the value of liberty and sacrifice,” said the campaign website for Hill, who was pulling 17 percent of the vote for third place. “Owen is dedicated to prioritizing the needs of Colorado’s veterans and ensuring that our brave men and women in uniform are welcomed home with honor and given opportunities to serve in our local community.”
Glenn, too, courted troops and veterans.
“As a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, I am proud to have honorably served my country for 21 years in both active duty and reserve service,” said Glenn, who picked up nearly 20 percent of the vote Tuesday, putting him in second place.
Joining them in a try to knock off Lamborn were two outsiders: former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens and former Texas judge Bill Rhea.
Stevens ran on his record as a small business owner, while Rhea tried to court the anti-Trump crowd. They both finished with percentages in the single-digits.
The race was one of the most expensive primaries in the history of the 5th District, known as Colorado’s safest Republican seat in the House. The five spent a combined $1.31 million on the race, according to the latest figures from the Federal Election Commission. It’s a number that’s likely to balloon with last-minute spending on television and Internet advertising by many of the campaigns.
Lamborn dug deeply into his campaign funds, swamping competitors with $561,887 in spending, reports show. Hill trailed but still spent enough to buy a nice house with a $383,906 campaign. Glenn billed himself as a strict fiscal conservative but still managed to plow $250,284 into campaign expenses, reports show.
Rhea paid out a modest $93,319, and Stevens trailed the pack with $26,580 in spending, election commission records show.
With Tuesday’s win, Lamborn is headed for a November showdown with Democrat Stephany Rose Spaulding, who cruised through the primary with only write-in opposition.
The Democrat already is pushing for the seat, having spent $103,517 of her $144,662 campaign funds, records show. Historically, Republicans rule the 5th District.
Since the district was founded in 1972, no Democrat has pulled more than 40 percent of the November vote.
For Lamborn, first elected in 2006, that has meant brutal primaries to keep his seat followed by an easy cruise to November victory.
Spaulding issued an optimistic statement Tuesday evening.
“Tonight, our district is one step closer to electing its first Democratic Congresswoman,” she said in an email.