Colorado Congressional District 5 and the Strength of Unaffiliated Voters

Colorado Congressional District 5 covers El Paso County, site of Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city, as well as five “rural” counties to the south and west. It is considered solidly Republican.

GOP Representative Doug Lamborn, now running for a fourth term in the House, is nevertheless being challenged by Dave Anderson, a businessman running on an independent platform.

Lamborn is a local attorney who served in the Colorado Senate before going to Washington, where he is considered “the most conservative member of the House”.

Anderson was born in Flint, MI, and raised in Detroit when the auto industry reigned supreme. With a MBA from Harvard he served as a troubleshooter for Pittsburgh Plate Glass before starting his own electronic assembly business, once employing 800 people. After the business was destroyed by off-shoring, Anderson became a consultant and founding member of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, an organization supporting fair trade practices.

His experience convinced Anderson that no matter how well a business is run, it will fail if competitors benefit from massive government support, as is the case with China. He is running to implement the needed policies.

Lamborn, by contrast, is a “free trader” with a libertarian outlook.

Conventional wisdom puts the chances of an Independent winning in Colorado Springs at next to zero. El Paso County includes three large military bases and the Air Force Academy, and is a favorite residence for retired officers. In addition it hosts several evangelical organizations, including the powerful and politically active Focus on the Family.

The voter registration picture, however, belies the straight “conservative” label. Republicans comprise 43% of registered voters, Democrats 23%, Unaffiliated 34% and other parties 1%. The total registered voter number in Colorado District #5 in the 2010 election cycle was 447,530.

So while it is true that “no Democrat can be elected in District 5”, Republicans are far from an absolute majority. The conservative strength lies more in voter participation, which in the election of 2010 was Republican 67% of registrations or 129,350 actual votes; Democrat claimed 52% or 54,790 votes; and Unaffiliated garnered 42% with 64,230 votes.

The above numbers favor conservative Republican. But for a “hard-fought” presidential election” the Democrat and Unaffiliated participation increases, reversing the majority. With 130,400 votes (74%) for Republicans, combining both the Democrat 69,970 votes (66%) with unaffiliated votes of 82,020 (57%) gives 151,990 votes – a 21,590 vote margin.

This year the Democrat party is running no candidate, concentrating their resources where chances are better. Dave Anderson is using the following strategy: keeping good relations with Democrats that are more likely to vote against the incumbent; court the unaffiliated vote and attract as many Republican moderates as possible, particularly in the business community. This is facilitated by a division within the Republican Party between traditional centrists and a Tea Party-Libertarian faction. Mr. Anderson is also paying particular attention to the outlying counties which represent 18% of registered voters and can provide the margin in a close race. .

As of now it appears to be working, and support is growing. November 6th is the determining date as to whether this strategy is enough.

This current race is also a test case in a key “swing” state that both Romney and Obama are courting ad infinite. This race could answer the following questions: Is incumbency still a decisive advantage at a time Congress’ ratings are abysmal? Is the apparent moderate-conservative split among Republicans superficial or profound? Will unaffiliated voters split as in the past or will independents vote as a bloc? Does an officially unaffiliated candidate stand a chance, or is the party system invincible?

There are still 42 days as of this writing and much can still change. Stay tuned.

Notes:

  1. Voter registration and participation statistics obtained from the Colorado Secretary of State office.
  2. Campaign websites: www.lamborn.house.gov (Doug Lamborn) and www.daveandersonforcongress.com (Dave Anderson)
  3. Full disclosure: the writer is an advisor/volunteer with the Anderson campaign.

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